Wechat users un­der scru­tiny

Law ex­perts skep­ti­cal of fea­si­bil­ity of cam­paign to quash on­line ru­mors

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - NATION - By WANG ZHENGHUA in Shang­hai wangzhenghua@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

China’s crack­down on on­line ru­mors has reached WeChat, with Zhe­jiang po­lice say­ing it is il­le­gal to spread ru­mors on the pop­u­lar mo­bile mes­sag­ing ser­vice.

At a news con­fer­ence on Mon­day, Ding Ren­ren, head of cy­ber­se­cu­rity at the Zhe­jiang Pub­lic Se­cu­rity Depart­ment, said WeChat’s Mo­ment, a vir­tual zone where users share texts and pic­tures with their con­tacts, is an on­line pub­lic venue.

“Al­though the tar­get re­ceivers are a spe­cific group, it is still il­le­gal to spread ru­mors and false in­for­ma­tion in such pub­lic venues with­out first ver­i­fy­ing the in­for­ma­tion,” he said.

WeChat users could be held legally re­spon­si­ble if they can­not tell whether some­thing is false in­for­ma­tion but still text about it or for­ward the ru­mor, he added.

The Zhe­jiang po­lice state­ment comes amid a col­lec­tive crack­down on In­ter­net-based ru­mors in which dozens of peo­ple na­tion­wide have been ar­rested.

Most re­cently, Shang­hai po­lice de­tained Fu Xuesh­eng, pres­i­dent of Shang­hai LabInfo Tech­nolo­gies, on sus­pi­cion of fab­ri­cat­ing ru­mors in­volv­ing State-owned oil gi­ant Sinopec and a Shang­hai po­lice chief and spread­ing them in on­line fo­rums.

Fo­cus is now turn­ing to WeChat, which has about 500 mil­lion users world­wide, rais­ing con­cerns among some users and le­gal ex­perts.

WeChat’s op­er­a­tor, Ten­cent, will abide by China’s laws and reg­u­la­tions, a spokesper­son at the com­pany in Shen­zhen said on Tues­day.

“WeChat has a re­port­ing mech­a­nism, and users can alert us if they find false in­for­ma­tion or ru­mors,” the spokesper­son said. “Even in­for­ma­tion re­leased on pub­lic ac­counts can be re­ported if proved to be false.”

Tan Bo, a post­grad­u­ate stu­dent at East China Univer­sity of Po­lit­i­cal Science and Law, said, “Ev­ery­body has the freedom to ex­press them­selves, and that freedom should be re­spected and pro­tected as long as the per­son is not spread­ing false in­for­ma­tion ma­li­ciously”.

As a mo­bile mes­sag­ing ap­pli­ca­tion, WeChat should not pass the bur­den of check­ing the ve­rac­ity of in­for­ma­tion to its users, he added.

Some ex­perts ques­tioned the fea­si­bil­ity of mon­i­tor­ing false in­for­ma­tion on WeChat.

“It’s still de­bat­able whether WeChat’s Mo­ment is a pub­lic venue or a pri­vate sec­tor,” said Zhou Han­hua, a re­searcher at the law in­sti­tute of the Chi­nese Acad­emy of So­cial Sciences.

Yi Shenghua, a lawyer at the Yingke Law Firm in Bei­jing, said law en­force­ment will have dif­fi­culty mon­i­tor­ing ru­mors spread among a spe­cific group on the mo­bile mes­sag­ing ser­vice, un­like mi­cro blogs and on­line fo­rums.

“Un­less the con­tact per­son re­ports the false in­for­ma­tion, po­lice of­fi­cers can­not know what is be­ing said among a small cir­cle of friends,” he said.

He also sug­gested mea­sures to fight on­line ru­mors.

“I sup­port the au­thor­i­ties’ clam­p­down on such ru­mors,” he said. “Like when the ru­mor of salt be­ing in short sup­ply led to panic buy­ing, such false in­for­ma­tion cre­ates great trou­ble in so­ci­ety.

“But cy­berspace has its own rules, and it won’t work if au­thor­i­ties try to man­age it with mea­sures they use in the real sec­tor,” he added.

He also warned that ef­forts to fight false ru­mors should not go too far or the pub­lic’s in­ter­est in tak­ing part in so­cial af­fairs will be damp­ened. An Baijie in Bei­jing con­trib­uted to this story.

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