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    China’s Security Ministry Targets Major Source of Online Misinformation: Influencers

    Several controversies involving influencers spreading misinformation have grabbed headlines recently, including after the Gansu earthquake.

    China’s Ministry of Public Security has vowed to further crack down on misinformation online — this time specifically calling out influencers who spread rumors online, following a spate of high-profile incidents involving internet celebrities.

    At a press conference last Friday, the deputy head of the MPS Network Security Bureau said that public security authorities will work with other departments including the Cyberspace Administration of China to target influencers who “fabricate and disseminate false information to create or capitalize on hot topics.”

    The official also said that paid online posters, also known as “water armies,” and those who “manipulate public opinion” will see their accounts banned.

    The ministry is set to carry out a yearlong special operation to combat and rectify online rumors in 2024 — a continuation of a campaign launched in April that has so far investigated more than 6,300 online rumormongers and shut down 34,000 accounts.

    Several controversies involving online rumors have grabbed headlines recently, including more than 100 accounts found to have fabricated fake earthquake information following the earthquake in the northwestern Gansu province on Dec. 18.

    Some of the accounts used the official sounding name “China Earthquake Network” to fabricate reports of aftershocks, triggering panic among the public.

    Another female influencer with 3 million followers on the short-video platform Kuaishou was banned for 30 days when she asked in a livestream “what does the earthquake have to do with [her]?”

    Earlier this month, a public security bureau in the eastern Shandong province detained a 40-year-old female blogger surnamed Lin and permanently suspended her account after she filmed herself feeding her hospitalized mother-in-law instant noodles, supposedly as revenge for her mother-in-law making her do the same after she gave birth.

    The video went viral on microblogging platform Weibo, garnering more than 61 million views, and sparked discussions about family relationships. But Lin later admitted that the video was staged to attract fans, and that the hospitalized woman was her biological mother.

    Zhu Wei, deputy director of the Communication Law Research Center at the China University of Political Science and Law, told domestic media that staged videos should be labeled as such according to the law.

    Editor: Vincent Chow.

    (Header image: Visuals from Katsyarina/adobe/IC, reedited by Sixth Tone)