China officially makes internet rumor-mongering a crime amid coronavirus
New cyberspace regulations come into effect as authorities face criticism over handling of whistle-blowing doctor
Rumor-mongering is now officially a crime in China. New cyberspace regulations first unveiled last year went into effect Sunday, banning internet users from spreading rumors, as well as insulting, threatening and doxxing people. It’s also illegal to use new technology such as deep learning and VR to break the law.
Even before these rules came out, Chinese authorities were already punishing people for spreading coronavirus-related fake news. In one week late January, the US-based advocacy group Chinese Human Rights Defenders documented more than 250 such cases.
Social media has become a major source of misinformation about the epidemic both in and outside of China. But China’s new regulations are vague on what constitutes a rumor, and a recent high-profile case suggests authorities can sometimes be wrong.
In December, a doctor in Wuhan warned his medical classmates on WeChat about an emerging mystery illness that was later confirmed to be Covid-19. He was accused by police of publishing “false information” and “seriously disrupting social order.”