from the flailing dept
Fake news and hoax news stories are annoying, to be sure. I've been fooled a few times by hoax stories, as I imagine most other folks who do what we do have been. And, while the strategies taken by folks like Facebook haven't resulted in ending the scourge of fake news, I can understand the intent. There are probably better strategies out there, though they are harder to achieve. Strategies like educating the public on how to verify internet stories they see. Or instilling in people a healthy amount of skepticism starting at a young age so that they don't fall victim to every hoax out there. Or just sending around Snopes.com to all of our family members and demanding that they run any outrage through that filter first before bringing it to the dinner table.
The point is that there are good ways to combat fake news. Here with an example of a terrible way to do so is China, which is happily riding the annoyance at hoax news to the happy conclusion of further centralizing control of the internet through its government.
China’s powerful internet censorship body has further tightened its grip on online news reports by warning all news or social network websites against publishing news without proper verification, state media reports. The instruction, issued by the Cyberspace Administration of China, came only a few days after Xu Lin, formerly the deputy head of the organisation, replaced his boss, Lu Wei, as the top gatekeeper of Chinese internet affairs. The central internet censorship organ ordered its regional subordinates to fully fulfil their duties on the basis of content management, strengthen supervision and inspection, and severely punish fake news or news that deviated from the facts.
“All websites should bear the key responsibility to further streamline the course of reporting and publishing of news, and set up a sound internal monitoring mechanism among all mobile news portals [and the social media chat websites] Weibo or WeChat,” Xinhua reported the directive as saying. “It is forbidden to use hearsay to create news or use conjecture and imagination to distort the facts,” it said.
The facts as the Chinese government sees them, it should be said. And that's really the point of all of this. This isn't about hoax news stories; it's about the reporting of anything at all that would embarrass the Chinese government. This kind of censorship funnel would be horrific under any scenario and under any governing body, but given that the Chinese government lost its collective mind and went censor-crazy just because Lady Gaga met with the Dalai Lama, this law is like giving a life-eraser to an eight-year-old with a bad attitude.
In addition to the censorship by government clearly embedded in this new law, so too is there an attempt to chill anyone from actually speaking to reporters within the country.
“No website is allowed to report public news without specifying the sources, or report news that quotes untrue origins,” the circular warned, adding that the fabrication of news or distortion of the facts were also strictly prohibited.
And, just like that, you chill the water for anyone that might talk to a reporter, because that reporter is required to name his or her sources. It's a subtle bit of tyranny that's impressive for a government typically more ham-fisted than that.
Oh, and you'll never guess what excuse the Chinese government is trotting out to excuse this kind of massive censorship.
Officials say internet restrictions, including the blocking of popular foreign websites such as Google and Facebook, are needed to ensure security in the face of rising threats, such as terrorism, and also to stop the spread of damaging rumours.
Terrorism...and the spread of damaging rumors. I can assure you this law has only to do with one of those threats, and it isn't terrorism, and it isn't "rumors" the Chinese government is worried about.