Joking around on social media can get you likes — until your post gets taken for truth, shared by more than 10,000 people, and launches an investigation by China’s State Forest Bureau.
Then, you get detention.
On Thursday evening, when Chinese families across the country celebrated New Year’s Eve together with long and lavish meals, an ostensibly jealous man in central China’s Hunan province posted photos on his Weibo microblog titled “other people’s New Year’s Eve dinner.” The since-deleted post showed what looked to be exotic animals being prepared in a kitchen: a pangolin, a crocodile and a bear paw.
Two hours later, the State Forest Bureau, which is responsible for protecting endangered animals, responded on its official Weibo that it had notified local police to verify the photos. A year earlier, in February 2017, the bureau was in the center of a similar social media storm when a post on Weibo that mentioned two government officials eating pangolin received widespread attention, with net users calling for the men to be investigated.
Changsha County police said Monday that it had given the person who had uploaded the pictures, a man surnamed Rao, five days of detention for posting and spreading “fictitious facts” online. He had downloaded five photos of wild animals and edited them to look like a New Year’s Eve dinner waiting to be cooked in order to get more followers and hits, police wrote.
In China, a person who spreads rumors online that aren’t serious enough to constitute a crime can be given detention and a fine for disturbing public order. For severe violations, people can be sentenced to between 3 to 7 years in prison, according to an amendment to China’s Criminal Law that came into effect in November 2015.
In January, Shanghai police said that it had handled 390 cases of online rumormongering in 2017, from made-up plane crashes to child trafficking cases. Baidu, China’s largest search engine, initiated a feature that identifies fake news in August 2017, and WeChat, China’s most popular messaging app, launched a mini app in early 2017 that can be used to verify whether articles shared on the platform are truthful.
Social media also got another man, surnamed Zhuo, in trouble this week after he “slandered” well-known Chinese scientist Huang Xuhua, the chief designer of China’s first nuclear submarine, police in Shandong province, eastern China, said on Weibo Sunday.
On Thursday, 92-year-old Huang had appeared on the Spring Festival Gala, the hours-long program from national broadcaster CCTV, to wish the hundreds of millions of viewers a happy new year. Shortly after, Zhuo lambasted Huang on Weibo for not contacting his parents for 30 years, calling him “an old beast.” In January, CCTV had broadcast a story on Huang that said he did not visit his parents between 1958 and 1988, when he worked on nuclear submarines, to protect the project’s secrets.
Zhuo was detained for ten days and fined 500 yuan ($79) for publicly insulting another person.
Editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.
(Header image: Cai Yanhong/VCG)