from the what-could-possibly-go-wrong dept
As we've noted before, the online community is kept on a pretty tight leash in China, with information deemed subversive or just embarrassing disappearing quickly from the networks. But it seems that's not enough. Global Voices is reporting that yet another approach is being tried to discourage "offenders" from posting in the first place:
China has stepped up its crackdown on online rumors by issuing a judicial framework for prosecuting offenders. Internet users who share false information that is defamatory or harms the national interest face up to three years in prison if their posts are viewed 5,000 times or forwarded 500 times, according to a judicial interpretation released on September 9, 2013.
In some ways, this is an escalation of a five-strikes program Techdirt wrote about last year, with the final punishment no longer being thrown off an online service for a short while, but being thrown in prison for a long while. That sudden jump in seriousness would suggest that the earlier scheme didn't work very well, and that the authorities are still having problems with controlling the flow of information online.
The new guideline, issued by the Supreme People's Court, defines the criteria for convicting and sentencing offenders. This includes causing a mass incident, disturbing public order, inciting ethnic and religious conflicts, and damaging the state's image.
Aside from obvious issues of censorship, what's troubling here is how easily the system could be abused. For example, it would be simple for people to band together to view or retweet dodgy posts from someone they wanted sent to prison. Whether or not that happens, it's disappointing to see the new Chinese leadership moving in the direction of more censorship and harsher penalties, when many were hoping the recent handover might be an opportunity to bring in reforms and a lighter touch, both online and offline.