China targets online 'rumours' ahead of Xi's leadership bid for unprecedented 3rd term

BEIJING - China's cyberspace watchdog has vowed to crackdown on fake news before a key summit where President Xi Jinping is set to take an unprecedented third term in power.

The Cyberspace Administration of China launched a three-month campaign targeting "online rumours and fake information about major meetings, important events and policies", starting on Friday, it said in a statement.

Offenders should be handled "strictly, quickly and severely", the agency added, without specifying punishments.

China's call to strengthen its already stringent Internet controls comes as the Communist Party prepares to begin its twice-a-decade leadership congress on Oct 16.

Mr Xi heads into the most important event in the nation's political calendar facing mounting problems at home and abroad.

Economic growth forecasts in China are being slashed, Covid-19 cases are rising and the United States is pushing back over Beijing's increased military pressure on Taiwan.

The cyber crackdown will also rein in "rumours" about work safety, transport, natural disasters, as well as false information on society, the economy and people's livelihoods, according to the statement.

Online platforms were urged to blacklist accounts posting such content and government agencies instructed to respond swiftly.

China's Internet is heavily censored for information that deviates from official party rhetoric. Still, censors sometimes cannot keep up with users' creative ways to bypass controls, as was seen during Shanghai's bruising two-month Covid-19 lockdown earlier this year, when an outpouring of anger flooded the nation's social media platforms. BLOOMBERG

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