The Chinese government today announced harsh new anti-defamation laws designed to stem the spread of online rumors. As Reuters reports, users who post false rumors that are widely circulated on the internet will face up to three years in jail — the standard sentence for violating China's defamation laws. In a ruling handed down Monday, China's high court determined that people whose rumors are reposted at least 500 times or viewed at least 5,000 times would be liable for prosecution.
"People have been hurt and reaction in society has been strong, demanding with one voice serious punishment by the law for criminal activities like using the internet to spread rumors and defame people," court spokesman Sun Jungong told reporters. "No country would consider the slander of other people as 'freedom of speech.'"
"People have been hurt and reaction in society has been strong."
Today's announcement marks the latest in China's ongoing campaign to crack down on social media sites such as Sina Weibo, the country's Twitter equivalent. Beijing has long held tight control over its domestic internet, but the government has ramped up its efforts as of late, following a spate of embarrassing political scandals. Several prominent officials have been forced to resign in recent months, including Yang Dacai, who last week was sentenced to 14 years in prison after web users posted pictures of him wearing expensive watches. The images led to a corruption inquiry and spurred President Xi Jinping to launch a widespread anti-bribery campaign.
Under Monday's ruling, a "serious case" of defamation includes any false information that causes protests, social unrest, or psychological agony to its subject. According to AFP, the law also covers posts related to extortion and blackmail.
Chinese officials say the law will help deter smear campaigns and the spread of misinformation, though users have already expressed concern over the government's low page view and repost thresholds. Following China's recent detainment of dissident bloggers and celebrities, there are fears that today's laws may make it even easier for Beijing to curb free speech online.