Most fake postings in China relate to food and health

 Chinese customers buying food at a supermarket in Qingdao, east China's Shandong province,  n Feb 14, 2017.
Chinese customers buying food at a supermarket in Qingdao, east China's Shandong province, n Feb 14, 2017.PHOTO: AFP

The majority of fake stories shared on the Chinese Internet involve food safety or erroneous health advice, an online information-verification team set up by tech giant Tencent said last week.

Fact Check, a platform which analyses online rumours, released a list of the top 10 online rumours that have duped Chinese netizens since April last year. Eight related to people's health, especially the safety of food and medicine.

In February, for example, a video that included claims that seaweed containing plastic was being sold in China made the rounds. Fact Check said the video was quickly proven false by the Centre for Food Safety Risk Assessment in Beijing, yet it still resulted in a nearly 100 million yuan (S$20 million) loss to the seaweed industry in Fujian province.

"Netizens are easily attracted by health information online and like to forward it to friends or family," said Ms Wang Yang, an employee responsible for the platform at Tencent, the company behind WeChat.

Her team tabulated more than 2,000 pieces of false information from 2.2 million WeChat users this year - 45 per cent related to health and 16 per cent to food safety.

The platform listed 10 popular but false online rumours over the past year, finding that people over 60 years old had the highest chance of being tricked.

"To prevent older netizens from being duped by fake information, we started to cooperate with food and medicine administrations this year, hoping to post authorised responses and verify the information in a timely manner," said Ms Wang.

Ms Kou Fei, 29, an employee of a Beijing educational institute, said her parents often send or forward health-related information, "but sometimes, I cannot distinguish fake ones as I don't have much scientific knowledge".

Beijing's cyber-security authority said it has created a system with several Internet companies, to identify fake information online using key words and then dispel the rumours in a timely manner.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2017, with the headline 'Most fake postings in China relate to food and health'. Print Edition | Subscribe