Weibo Gives Media, Government Power to Quash ‘Rumors’
Weibo is giving media outlets and the Chinese government the authority to directly flag online rumors, an account affiliated with the microblogging platform announced Friday.
According to the statement posted by the Sina Administrative Microblog Academy — operated by Weibo’s parent company — verified accounts of government departments and “credible media” will be able to mark posts disseminating fake news with a customizable notice identifying them as untrue or misleading. The notice will then appear immediately below the post, with Weibo playing no role in screening or approving it.
Weibo’s rumor-busting feature was initially introduced with a smaller scope earlier this year, when the company gave media accounts associated with the Central Committee of the Communist Party the power to flag fake news for Weibo to then verify. But the expanded authority to directly flag content will now be granted to a total of 1,638 media accounts and 1,322 government-affiliated accounts. The latest announcement doesn’t specify which media accounts will be included but names public security bureaus and cyberspace offices as examples of government accounts that will play a greater role in shaping China’s online discourse.
“The previous rumor-reporting function reflected only their indirect power, but the newly introduced platform gives them the right to intervene directly,” read the statement, referring to the watchdog accounts. “Rather than serving merely as sources of information, they will now actively participate in Weibo’s content management.”
However, not everyone is enthusiastic about the new feature or the already-suppressive state’s expanded role as a content monitor. “The Ministry of Truth is online,” commented one netizen under the announcement — a reference to George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984.”
In just the past few weeks, the country’s news outlets and government departments have foundered in distinguishing truth from fiction. In late October, police in Shandong province detained a netizen for spreading a rumor about the number of deaths in a mining accident that turned out to be an understatement of the actual figure. And on Sunday, The Beijing News — one of China’s most respected media outlets — blamed a fatal bus accident in Chongqing on a female driver in a separate car. Security footage later recovered from the wreckage showed that an altercation between the driver and a passenger caused the tragedy.
In June 2017, Tencent’s social app WeChat launched a mini-program with a similar content-policing function. Titled “WeChat Rumor-Rebutting Assistant,” the mini-program also gave authorized accounts the power to flag fake news. According to public data from WeChat, over 1 million posts containing false or misleading information have been reported since the function was rolled out.
Over the past year, China’s media and internet landscapes have become more tightly regulated. “We must strengthen guidance and maintain a positive environment for public opinion,” Du Feijin, the head of Beijing’s publicity department, said in a speech on Wednesday. “[We] must resolutely combat improper practices such as chasing negativity, cross-provincial supervising, revealing dark truths, hyping hot-button issues, and pandering for clicks.”
Editor: David Paulk.
(Header image: IC)