Spreading Rumors: Guess which web posts resulted in arrests in China

Mainland China is in the midst of a fresh crackdown on internet speech known as the “Anti-Rumor Campaign.” Details are complex, but in a nutshell, if you post something  that the government deems false which: has “a bad international effect;”  is “damaging to the national interest;” or, causes a mass protest (among other things) you can can be sent to prison for three years. To be subject to this strict penalty, the post or message must have been either viewed 5,000 times or reposted 500 times.

Three of the messages below resulted in the arrest and detainment of citizens in China. Can you pick out which posts saw their authors detained? (Click to enlarge)

Expat Lingo China Anti Rumor Campaign graphic parody

The correct answers are A, C and E. (Please note that for C and E, I manufactured the post content based on news reports as the original posts are unavailable in English translation. Online usernames and thumbnail pictures, except for Yang Hui’s photograph (E), are also faked.)

A: The Anhui woman who posted a question on Sina Weibo asking about a murder in Louzhuang was deemed to be “disrupting public order” and was arrested.

C: Another Anhui women said that 16 people had died in a road accident. The official number was 10. She was placed under five days of administrative detention for “spreading rumors.”

E: Sixteen-year-old Yang Hui was just released on Monday after intervention by two activist Chinese lawyers. He had posted several times about a questionable investigation of a local karaoke bar manager’s death. He had also posted photographs of protestors demanding a more thorough investigation.

B, D, and F are completely false and fabricated by me.

B: Canadian Mark Rowswell (aka Da Shan 大山) is a famous media personality in China who learned perfect Mandarin through his own dedicated hard work. He regularly (and voluntarily) appears in Chinese New Year TV Galas and other CCTV programing.

D: Breathing in Beijing, while unhealthy many days of the year, is not the equivalent of smoking 34 cigarettes per day.

F: The Great Wall of China is not visible from the moon with the naked eye, let alone from Mars.


Sources and more information

For an overview of the new crack-down, see: China threatens tough punishment for online rumor spreading, Reuters, 9 Sept 2013.

For more information on the online rumor crackdown and its impact on “small fish” like the two Anhui women, see: In China being retweeted 500 times could get you three years in prison, Quartz, 9 Sept 2013 by Gwynn Guilford.

For more on the recent and well-publicized Yang Hui case see: 16-year-old Weibo user detained in Gansu under new online rumor rule, South China Morning Post, 19 Sept 2013 by Teddy Ng; Detained teenager, no Bo Xilai, focus of online debate, South China Morning Post, 22 Sept 2013 by Patrick Boehler; and, Is a 16 year old boy’s release a victory for netizens in China’s internet crackdown?, South China Morning Post, 23 Sept 2013 by Patrick Boehler.

For an overview of China’s “Seven Base Lines” policy which is meant to guide and sanitize the online posts of China’s “thought leaders,” see: China’s “Seven Base Lines” for a clean internet, China Media Project, 27 Aug 2013 by David Bandurski.

For information on the “chilling effect” of the new policies see: Is anti-rumour crackdown silencing voices of dissent on Weibo?, South China Morning Post, 13 Sept 2013 by Patrick Boehler.

24 responses to “Spreading Rumors: Guess which web posts resulted in arrests in China

    • actually, only the area under the free trade zone (maybe in Pudong?)

      this is very bad precedance that will silence the populance to question anything about the government. a lot of transparency reforms (disclosure of govt official’s assets, press freedoms) are being scaled back dramatically..

      • Agreed that it is certainly a very bad precedence that will silence many. I read that several big “Vs” on Sina Weibo have retroactively deleted any old posts that might be construed to violate the new regulations. Very scary.

        Oh, and I think I just read this morning that the free trade zone, in Pudong, would likely not lift internet restrictions…

      • Then again, everything the CCP said technically is a mirage until it truly appears (and lasts)…basically freedoms been severely rolled back since the 2008 Olympics (including using IDs for internet registration of accounts.)

        actually, the CCP consulate tried to interfere in the affairs of small city by threating the mayor of the city when a shop painted Tibet theme on its walls. so much for blaming the US on meddling on Chinese affairs (don’t throw rocks at others when living in a glass house.)

    • Sitting here in Hong Kong, it all seems pretty incredible and scary! We take our ability to say almost whatever we’d like in social networks for granted. Thanks for your comment!

      • Yes, nulle, it certainly doesn’t look good. But in today’s society (unlike the 1960s) it would be harder to crack-down to such a terrible extent as the Cultural Revolution, because (despite internet restrictions) lots of things will still be seen via the internet on an international stage with the whole world watching (brave Chinese and foreign journalists always seem to figure out how to spread the word). For example, the bad consequences of the “Anti-Rumor Campaign” are already being written about (here and in the SCMP, for instance). Thanks as always, for adding to the discussion.

      • I guess you haven’t heard about the Alpis Lam saga, have you?

        CY Leung hiring triads/thugs as supporters, cops/senior commanders openly supporting the CCP. the CCP PLA navy taking a pier at Central before public consulation started. PLA exercises of HK vs. PLA at their barracks at all times (day and night) Apple Daily (Newspaper) owner threatened and its paper distribution center burned by (pro-CCP) thugs.

        generally ignore at your own peril.

    • The typhoon wasn’t as severe in Hong Kong as everyone feared. Windy, rainy and a day off school for the kids.

      C is confusing. I guess she was considered a trouble maker for circulating a non official number. I’m sure there is more to all of these stories than anyone can tell.

  1. Oh my goodness. I agree — scary. Not sorry I’m not native Chinese… But I must say, I am very impressed by your photoshop and translation skills!

  2. Wow. Yes, as you say, it makes me appreciate my freedom of speech. Thank you for writing about censorship and its consequences. We sometimes hear, here and there, that the Chinese authorities monitor what’s being said online but this is scary. I still dont get why A was arrested?

    • I think A was arrested because: (1) her post mentions a murder that might not have officially occurred; or, (2) she hints that something about the murder is being covered up. Either way she’s probably considered to be “causing trouble” by “spreading false rumors.” I also think there must be way more back-story to all of this than can be deduced from the web.

  3. actually I forgot to mention that any online account in China require photoID with all information (name, verifiable address and phone number, ID#, photo) to register

    not to mention the black jails..

  4. Thanks for liking my loanword post, Jen! Fan of the etymology of languages too?

    Google Draw, eh? Have you tried downloading the free photo editing program GIMP?

    Also, I heard that in Chengdu during whatever bogus world trade summit was held there within the past year, attendees had access to sites normally not possible without a VPN.

    Planning any trips to Guangdong?

    • Thanks for the software tip; I’ll check it out. Whether I go to Guangdong this season or not will depend on whether the powers that be grant me a single, double or multi entry to China this time around….

      • just a word of advice, bring the passport you originally obtained your first china visa with (and current passport w/ at least 6 mo. remaining)

        2nd, leave your laptops at home or take it with you. it is known that security services open your room, copy your HD, and add spyware to your electronics

        3rd, it is a fact that the CCP uses Xinhua as a spy bureau using its own (or freelancers) to spy on anyone criticize the CCP outside of china. (recent incident of freelance reporter to spy on the Dalai Lama on his trip to Toronto and anyone who went/spoke at the event.)

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