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China's Internet Society backs online censorship

Web firms must police content to prevent rumors, says NGO

By Phil Muncaster, 9 Apr 2012

Non-governmental organisation the Internet Society has decided to wade into the murky waters of Chinese online censorship by calling on firms to increase scrutiny of the content on their sites, as the fall out from recent coup rumours continues.

In a fairly transparent piece of government propaganda, state-run news agency Xinhua reported that the Internet Society of China has called on web companies to self-censor more rigorously in a bid to prevent the spread of harmful rumours.

Web giants Tencent and Sina were both punished while 16 other sites were closed down by the authorities after they were found guilty of allowing a rumour about a high level political coup within the upper ranks of the Communist Party to spread online last month.

Twitter-like services Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo were forced to close the comment function on their sites for four days in order to purge them of any references to the rumour.

The Xinhua report said that over 1,000 people have now been arrested as part of the online crack down and over 200,000 ‘harmful’ messages deleted.

Echoing government sentiments, the Internet Society reportedly claimed that online rumours can endanger national security and social stability, in complete disregard for the fact that censoring certain keywords and topics sometimes actively encourages speculation and misplaced rumour.

As part of its online crack down, the government has reportedly closed several left-leaning pro-Mao web sites, including Red Flag and Utopia.

Deposed Politburo member Bo Xilai, who was at the centre of speculation surrounding a coup in Beijing, built his political reputation around a return to flag-waving, song singing nationalism inspired by the Mao era. ®