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China jails teenager for spreading a rumor online

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(FLICKR jonrussell) sina weibo
(FLICKR jonrussell) sina weibo

China is moving quickly to put its strict new anti-defamation laws to use. Chinese police have detained a teenage boy for allegedly posting an inaccurate rumor online, barely a week after the new laws were first revealed, reports Quartz. The laws are meant to target libelous online rumors, and can hold their writers liable should they reach some sort of viral scale. China's standard for what's viral, however, is distinctly low: an inaccurate rumor needs to be reposted just 500 times or viewed just 5,000 times for its writer to potentially be charged with defamation.

None of his posts could be considered viral

The teenager was detained for writing about a suspicious death and claiming that the victim had died of police brutality rather than a head wound from a fall as had been claimed, reports Quartz. "The police didn't act," the teenager reportedly wrote on the Twitter-style service Sina Weibo. "Worse, [police] quarreled with the crowds and even beat up the relatives of the deceased." Though none of the teenager's posts were said to have crossed the 500 repost mark, Quartz notes that he apparently did misidentify a person in one of his comments, allowing it to be considered clearly inaccurate.

Because none of the teenager's remarks have been reposted more than 500 times, the justification for his detention may be tenuous. According to Quartz, his posts can also only be considered illegal if they were intended to cause harm. But even if the case doesn't progress, this immediate detention suggests that China intends to uphold these new laws. Quartz reports that this isn't even the first incident: someone else has been charged for getting the number of casualties wrong when writing about a car accident.