China’s had its fill of the rumor mill

New regulations seeks to limit defamatory comments online

Under new rules passed in a southwestern China city, Webizens spreading malicious rumors and lies on the Internet will face hundreds of dollars in fines — and possible detention.

The new laws, from Chongqing Municipality, a city-state near Sichuan province, target anyone who posts defamatory comments or remarks, launches personal attacks or seeks to damage someone’s reputation online. The provincial decision doesn’t automatically mean other Chinese cities adopt it, but they could in the future.

Penalties will be a warning or a fine of between $125 and $625. And the fines are stiffer for organizations involved in distributing defamatory material — they face penalties of between $375 and $1,875.

If rumors have “serious consequences,” the person could be detained for five days or more.

As well as the traditional online speculation about the lives of celebrities, there have been numerous high-profile cases in China of trial by Internet, where often innocent parties are accused of cheating or engaging in dodgy business dealings and are hounded by online vigilantes.

There are reports of suicides and attacks on individuals and the online denunciations have been compared with those of the Cultural Revolution, the chaotic period between 1966 and 1976 when Red Guards harangued people they judged insufficiently loyal to Chairman Mao Tse-tung.

Under the new Chongqing rules, any institutions or IT systems which want an Internet connection will have to register with police, although the rules stopped short of requiring all Webizens to register with the Public Security Bureau after a public outcry, the China Daily reported.

There are also penalties for spreading viruses or other harmful data online.

In August, the State Administration for Radio, Film and Television introduced rules to render Internet broadcasts about films, celebrities and Communist icons off-limits for satire.

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