China and fake news in the time of coronavirus

China's coronavirus has also sparked an epidemic of online panic. When the severe acute respiratory syndrome or Sars hit in 2003, 6 per cent of China's population were online; now almost 60 per cent are. The average user of WeChat, the country's dominant social media platform, spends 90 minutes a day on the app. As a result, while more than 40,000 patients in China are fighting the virus, the entire country is facing an onslaught of online media - much of it disinformation.

There are important upsides to the proliferation of social media in China. It enables citizen reporting of a kind rarely seen in the country - such as video blogs from Wuhan, the city at the heart of the epidemic. Such independent reporting is essential in China's tightly state-controlled media environment.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2020, with the headline 'China and fake news in the time of coronavirus'. Print Edition | Subscribe