China launches platform to bust 'online rumours'

Besides a website, the platform Piyao - which means"refuting rumours" - also has a mobile app and social media accounts with social media giants Weibo and WeChat.
Besides a website, the platform Piyao - which means"refuting rumours" - also has a mobile app and social media accounts with social media giants Weibo and WeChat.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM PIYAO.ANQUAN.ORG

BEIJING • China has launched a platform, which includes a mobile app, that lets the public report "online rumours" and even uses artificial intelligence to identify reports that are false, as Beijing cracks down on what it views as socially destabilising content.

The platform, launched on Wednesday comes as Beijing steps up efforts to police the Internet, especially social media being used by people to discuss politics and other sensitive subjects despite stringent censorship.

Besides a website, the platform, Piyao - which means "refuting rumours" - also has a mobile app and social media accounts with social media giants Weibo and WeChat.

Via those channels, Piyao will broadcast "real" news, sourcing reports from state-owned media, party-controlled local newspapers, and various government agencies.

"Rumours violate individual rights; rumours create social panic; rumours cause fluctuations in the stock markets; rumours impact normal business operations; rumours blatantly attack revolutionary martyrs," Piyao said in a promotional video of the launch on its website.

Official data show that Internet regulators received 6.7 million reports of illegal and false information last month, with most of the cases coming from Sina, which owns Weibo; Tencent, which owns Wechat; Baidu; and Alibaba .

Chinese laws dictate that rumour-mongers could be charged with defamation, and they face up to seven years in prison.

Online posts that contain rumours visited by 5,000 Internet users or are reposted more than 500 times could also incur jail sentences.

Hosted by the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission in affiliation with the official Xinhua news agency, Piyao has integrated over 40 local rumour-refuting platforms and uses artificial intelligence to identify rumours.

The platform operates under the guidance of 27 government departments, including the Central Party School which trains rising officials, and the National Development and Reform Commission, a powerful planning body.

Chinese media regularly report on - and refute - popular rumours that circulate online, though generally only on topics involving issues like corrupt local officials or health scares, rather than anything more salacious about senior leaders.

President Xi Jinping said last year that China will build a "clean and clear" Internet space.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 31, 2018, with the headline 'China launches platform to bust 'online rumours''. Print Edition | Subscribe