If You Post A Rumour To The Internet And It Gets Reposted 500 Times, You Could Face Three Years Jail Time In China

China’s war on
online gossip and rumours is beginning to gather steam, with people going to jail and generally everything getting a little scary. It also seems a little confusing. When exactly does spreading gossip online result in jail time?

China’s Supreme People’s Court today held a news conference clarifying exactly what it takes to get jail time for rumormongering, so things are getting a little clearer.

Xinhua reports that according to the court’s judicial interpretation, “people will face defamation charges if online rumours they post are viewed by more than 5,000 Internet users or retweeted more than 500 times.” They may also get charges if “repeat offenders, or if their online rumours caused the victim or the victim’s immediate family members to commit self-mutilation or suicide or experience mental disorders.”

The state run news agency also notes that those found guilty of defamation will “face up to three years in prison or deprivation of political rights.” Companies or individuals that make money from rumours could also face illegal business operations charges deemed “serious,” Xinhua reports.

China’s war on online gossip is understandable, especially if reports of the “black PR” industry profiting off of false rumours is true. But is it really workable?

Tech in Asia points towards one Weibo message from Beijing lawyer Hu Yihua:

From now on, whenever anyone says anything bad about me, I’ll just get zombie followers to view their post 5,000 times or repost it 500 times and get them sent to prison.

There’s also the issue that the law specifically relates to social media (the hugely popular Twitter rival Weibo seems to be a particular target). As Beijing Cream points out, Xinhua itself has spread false information to far more than 5,000 people — just this weekend it falsely claimed on its website and in print that Istanbul would be the 2020 Summer Olympics Host.

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