China cracks down on Internet rumour by detaining men for viral video

Great Wall of China

If you needed further evidence of China’s renewed focus on preventing the spreading of rumour online, then this Guardian story — which explains how two men were detained for five days after posting a video on the Internet — will suffice.

The men were held “in accordance with relevant laws”, according to Chinese news agency Xinhua, after posting a video that showed 5,000 police guarding a wedding convoy in Changsha, a city in China’s Hunan province. The footage was subsequently shared by large number of Chinese Internet users, as word of the event gathered pace online, alerting authorities in the process.

The city’s police officials have since claimed that the video was a coincidence, as the patrol was passing the wedding convoy at the time that it was shot, but that hasn’t stopped the men facing an excessive punishment for what authorities say was a mix-up.

News of the detention follows the Chinese government’s heightened focus on cracking down on what it deems to be false rumours and offensive information online. The fact that the video, and its negative message, gained a widespread audience is ultimately what prompted authorities to take action.

Members of the media are expressly forbidden to report ‘Internet rumours’ without first verifying the information, on the threat that their media permit will be revoked. The new restrictions for reporting Web news is a clear sign that Beijing is looking to retain the final ‘call’ over the control of news online. Recent times have seen social media develop into a key communications channel which allows Chinese netizens to find information without government spin or manipulation.

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