China calls online rumors a 'social malady'

The country's state-run media outlet says microblogging services allow for rumors to crop up, creating a less-than-ideal Internet environment.

The Chinese government can't stand online rumors, and in a commentary today from state-run media organization Xinhua it made that abundantly clear.

According to Xinhua, a mouthpiece for the country's ruling party, the growth of microblogging services, as well as blogs, is helping to fuel "toxic rumors" that, the government says, could lead to the rapid disintegration of the quality of the Internet.

"The rapid advance of this flood has also brought 'mud and sand'--the spread of rumors--and to nurture a healthy Internet, we must thoroughly eradicate the soil in which rumors grow," Xinhua wrote in a story published today in China, and translated by Reuters. "Concocting rumors is itself a social malady, and the spread of rumors across the Internet presents a massive social threat."

In an attempt to address the issue, the news agency called for "stronger Internet administration from the responsible agencies, raising the intensity of attacks on rumors."

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China has become a blogging and microblogging powerhouse. According to data from the China Information Network Center, at the end of June, 195 million people across the country were using microblogging services. Last year, research firm TNS reported that 80 percent of all Chinese Web users have written their own blogs. The growth of those services has resulted in a rapid expansion of the number of places the Chinese can express themselves--something that the government has long viewed as a threat.

That was made abundantly clear last year when China shut down a slew of blogs and microblogs from a China-based service, called Sohu. That move followed comments made by the government in 2006 , claiming blogs had become bastions for the spread of "illegal and unhealthy information."

The government's latest comments appear to be thinly veiled attempts to spur more censorship in China. However, even though the country has been beating the drum of control over the last several years, it appears the government's efforts have done little to combat the rising tide. In 2006, there were just 60 million blogs in China, compared to hundreds of millions of blogs and microblogs now.

But that doesn't mean the government won't try to stifle that growth. China has long engaged companies-- most notably, Google --over censorship. The country has also been known to block services. Last year, for example, it blocked Foursquare to stem any criticism over the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.

 

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