“Internet Disaster Areas”: Help is on the Way

Two reports published this month came to the same conclusion, reports Enorth (Tianjin): microblogs have become the internet’s disaster areas when it comes to rumors.

Main Link: Enorth, December 30, 2012. Links within blockquotes added during translation.

A survey by Legal Daily online shows that 51.7 percent of rumors emerged online in 2012 came from microblogs, or were mainly spread on microblogs. Forums have been sources and disseminators of substantial numbers of rumors, too. 27.6 percent of online rumors originated from forums or were mainly disseminated on forums.

法制网的调查显示,在2012年出现的网络谣言中,有51.7%是源自微博,或者主要在微博上传播。论坛在网络谣言的发源和传播中也占据着不可忽视的地位,27.6%的网络谣言源自论坛或者主要在论坛中传播。

According to a sample-based statistic on 200 online rumor cases in 2012, conducted by Shanghai Jiaotong University’s New Media and Social Research Center, microblogs accounted for 28 percent of all rumors in the spotlight. Forums accounted for 20 percent, and internet news for 13 percent.

而据上海交通大学新媒体与社会研究中心对2012年200起网络谣言案例的抽样统计,微博为首曝媒体的谣言比例占到样本总体的28%,其次为论坛社区(20%)、网络新闻(13%)。

Only in March 2012, “the authorities in charge” had to “clean” [or "put in order"] more than 210,000 messages or news, according to Enorth.

China University of Political Science and Law professor Ruan Qilin says that because of existing investigation and verification problems, looking into online rumors is difficult to a certain degree, and how to effectively administer and control online rumors has currently become an urgent question.

中国政法大学教授阮齐林说,因为存在查证困难的问题,目前追究网络谣言有一定难度,如何有效监管及遏制网络谣言成了当前亟待解决的问题。

“One important reason for online rumors spreading so easily is that netizens have no more convincing sources”, says Renmin University News faculty assistant professor Weng Changshou. “Officialdom must build public credibility – they must become the first the netizens think of and rely on as information sources whenever they are facing hearsay. Therefore, to deal with the internet age in terms of concepts, style and mechanisms, the asymmetry between official information and netizens’ information, and the antagonism between them, needs to be reduced.”

“网络谣言能够传播,有一个重要原因是缺乏令网民信服的信息来源。”中国人民大学新闻学院副教授翁昌寿说,“官方必须建立公信力,成为网民在听到传言时首先想到和依靠的消息来源,因此需要在观念、作风、机制上适应网络时代的信息传播环境,减少官方信息与网民信息的不对称性和对抗性。”

Officialdom building credibility would be a fairly long-term goal, of course. But Weng’s suggestion to reduce the “asymmetry” between official and online information seems to point into the right direction, from the legislators’ perspective:

As far as concrete measures are concerned, a number of experts believe that sound legislation, strengthened internet management and raising netizens’ ability to judge and recognize online rumors are important. This time, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee will pass a decision concerning strengthened internet information protection, which is seen as a major official step to curb internet rumors.

在具体措施上,多名受访专家均认为,健全法律、加强网络管理和网友提高对网络谣言的识别能力几方面都很重要。此次,全国人大常委会通过的关于加强网络信息保护的决定,就被视为在遏制网络谣言上,官方迈出的重要步伐。

For good measure, possibly to demonstrate how strongly Chinese “civil society” is involved in “fighting rumors”, Enorth also quotes an NPC delegate from Anhui Province, He Bangxi, who “had, in recent years, begun to call for awareness concerning online rumors”.

It’s not a completely new effort. Only a year ago, administrative tries were made to require real-name registration on what looked like a small scale, but would have affected most microblogs, if it had been seen through according to plans back then. And in summer 2009, Chinese news websites were reportedly required to implement real-name registration.

The 2009 initiative came from the State Council. This seems to be the first time that NPC legislation seems to be planned.

Obviously, there are “human-flesh searches” and similar online activities which threaten individual rights – or even lives.

But then, as netizens noted days before Enorth informed its readers, it’s currently not difficult for officials to track down real identities anyway.

Or, at least, to bust some “illegal internet cafes” which didn’t have subversive visitors register properly with them.

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