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TELL THE TRUTH

China’s news websites now have to verify social media stories before they report them

By Echo Huang & Zheping Huang

China’s top internet watchdog has new orders for the country’s online media that would be good practice around the world—verify social media accounts and sources before publishing news reports based on them. The order comes after a number of fake news stories went viral in China.

The directive, titled “Notice on further strengthening management to prevent fake news,” was issued by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) on Sunday (July 3). The Chinese internet regulator didn’t publish the full text of the document, just a statement (link in Chinese) about it on its website:

All websites must consistently maintain the right propaganda direction. Strict measures must be taken to ensure the truth, comprehensiveness, objectivity, and fairness in news reportage. It is forbidden to pursue timeliness without verifying content on social media platforms before publishing the content as news.

The Notice demands that all websites bear the responsibility of further regulating the procedure of news reporting and publishing, and set up a sound internal monitoring system on internet platforms including mobile news apps, Weibo, and Wechat. It is forbidden to fabricate or omit news sources on websites. It is forbidden to use hearsay to create news or use conjecture and imagination to distort the facts.

The new directive does not ban online media from getting news from social media overall, or from reporting news from social media without government approval, as some western news outlets have reported.

In the statement, CAC listed a number of fake news stories that have circulated widely on the internet in China. Major news portals including Tencent, Netease, and Sina were named and shamed for creating or disseminating fake news.

In one of the cases, financial news publisher Caijing wrote a story (link in Chinese) about how the State Bureaus for Letters and Calls dealt with petitions from cancer patients like Wei Zexi. It was listed as an example of a “faked story” in the Notice.

Caijing also reported that basic social morality is dwindling in a village in northeastern China, where the residents gamble, find casual sex partners, and insult their elderly family members. Later the editorial staff wrote in an apology (link in Chinese) that the story was based on fake online content.

The notice came days after CAC’s former head, Lu Wei, stepped down to be replaced by his deputy Xu Lin.