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500 Retweets Will Now Get You Three Years in Prison in China

China has stepped up its crackdown on online rumors by issuing [zh] a judicial framework for prosecuting offenders. Internet users who share false information that is defamatory or harms the national interest face up to three years in prison if their posts are viewed 5,000 times or forwarded 500 times, according to a judicial interpretation released on September 9, 2013.

The new guideline, issued by the Supreme People's Court, defines the criteria for convicting and sentencing offenders. This includes causing a mass incident, disturbing public order, inciting ethnic and religious conflicts, and damaging the state's image.

According to Xinhua news, Shen Yang, a professor from Wuhan University specializing in microblogging cases, welcomed the judicial interpretation, saying it will help clean up the Internet.

Over the past month, China has detained a number of suspects. The move is seen as part of President Xi Jinping's new policy of online control. In July 2013, singer Wu Hongfei was detained after allegedly threatening to bomb a government building on Sina Weibo. Liu Hu, a Chinese journalist, was also detained by Beijing police in August for fabrication and dissemination of rumors online.

Given how easy it is to manipulate social media activity, people will need to be very careful about what they post, as anyone with a grudge or an agenda could quickly push a target's message over those thresholds. Many netizens expressed anger towards the new policy.

CCTV reported that people will face defamation charges if the online rumors they create are viewed by at least 5,000 Internet users or retweeted 500 times.

China's CCTV reported that people would face defamation charges if the online rumors they create are viewed by at least 5,000 Internet users or retweeted 500 times.

Dunan Guandian“ [zh] wrote:

一个人的同一个行为,他是不是个罪犯,决定权掌握在其他网民手中,别人不转他就是良民,别人转多了他就是个罪犯。

Whether someone has committed a crime is in the hands of other netizens. If others don't retweet, he's a good citizen, if others retweet, he has committed a crime.

Shen biji“ [zh] joked:

本人刚注册了500个小号,谁要惹我,就找他敏感贴,往死里转

I just registered 500 accounts, if anyone annoys me, I will take revenge by retweeting his or her sensitive posts.

The new policy has also prompted concerns about freedom of speech in China.

Yangfan qu yuanhang” [zh] wrote:

从“谣言转发500条入刑”事件中看不到新政府有什么要改革的苗头,只要看要对民众禁言的冲动;

From this policy I can't see any sign of reform from the new government, I can only see the impulse to control citizens’ speech.

EyeOfShaka” [zh] wrote:

一个不允许负面的ZF本身必然是专制,“谣言”转发500就可入刑,简直是滑稽加无耻,这无疑是告诉所有的百姓“你们必须保证说的是真理,要么我就可以给你转500,然后拿谣言的大帽子压死你”,潜在的意思就是都老实点,不然我就治你。

The policy that does not allow negative comments is tyranny. “Rumors” forwarded 500 times can earn you time in jail, this is simply ridiculous. This is to tell everyone, “You must ensure that what you say is the truth, or I can retweet you 500 times, and crush you with the excuse of spreading rumors.” The underline meaning is that if you don't behave, I will punish you.

Professor Chen Wanying at HK University commented [zh]:

法律也是需要的,要营造一种气氛,一方面打击谣言,但是也要给民众有讲话的空间,大家来探索,不然你不利于创新,不利于国家的发展。

Law is needed to create an atmosphere to combat rumors, but we need to create a space for people to speak and explore, or it not conducive to innovation and national development.

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