China’s media regulators have issued instructions that online media may not publish news reports that rely heavily on social media as sources.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), China’s main Internet regulator, said Sunday that online publishers must check with official sources when using information from social media. The sites must not distort facts or invent news.

The move is aimed at bringing the fast growing online media into the same regulatory control as more traditional media. Online media published by private-sector operators have been gaining ground as the country’s vast population increasingly adopts smart phones and switches on to social media and to news from apps.

Most traditional media outlets in China, and their websites, are state-controlled. They are issued with daily instructions from national and local propaganda departments as to what can be published, and what cannot. Erroneous stories from the online providers have been labelled as ‘fake news.

While there have been notorious incidents of stories based on fabricated information – and regulators have penalized companies including ifeng.com, Sina and Tencent – not all ‘fake news’ is fake. Some of it may simply be inconvenient.

China also operates the world’s largest online media regulation operation. Often nicknamed ‘The Great Firewall of China’ it employs tens of thousands of operators who block web sites, web pages and social media and blog postings.