What happens when a country cracks down on fake news? Ask China

Year after year, China has arrested internet users for posting fake online rumors.

By Michael Kan
Dec. 5, 2016

dsc05331 Michael Kan

Sina Weibo is a Twitter-like site in China that regularly censors posts, including fake news.

Social media is such an active place for exchange of information in China in part because users don’t trust mainstream media, most of which is state-run and tightly controlled. To find unfiltered news, internet users often turn to Chinese social media networks, where they can post and read content that sometimes gets past the censors.  

“Social media in China has been the channel through which internet users can exchange information that wouldn’t have been allowed in state-run media,” said Mark Natkin, managing director of Beijing-based Marbridge Consulting.

And despite the censorship, more Chinese internet users are relying on social media for unfiltered news, even if the source is questionable, Ng said. "The potential for fake news can happen because Chinese citizens have such distrust in the official media," he said.

Perhaps the same can be said of America's problem with fake news. Distrust of mainstream media led a portion of the U.S. population to seek out alternative news online, and that helped fake news flourish.

“I guess one man’s rumor is another man’s scoop,” said Duncan Clark, chairman of technology consultancy BDA China. 

For the Chinese government, cracking down on online rumors is about nipping unrest in the bud before it becomes a political movement, he said. But the rise of social media is creating a new media environment in both countries. 

"As I think Barack Obama just said to the New Yorker, 'everything is true and nothing is true'," Clark said. 

It's a concern that internet users in China are also very aware of. 

"Most Chinese users are actually against fake news," Ng said. "Because they know that in this environment, it has the potential to flourish."

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