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China shuts 18,576 accounts for 'spreading fake news' during pandemic

por Pablo Cousins (2020-05-12)

China has launched a crackdown on its online outlets to curb what it calls 'fake news' amid the coronavirus pandemic.

06041614018imagepdf-160604082218-thumbnaOfficials have deleted more than 6,000 articles and closed over 18,500 accounts since March, the country's internet watchdog said today.

Multiple accounts had promoted false information about the outbreak, causing negative social impact, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) accused. 

The Chinese internet watch dog has deleted more than 6,000 articles and closed over 18,500 online outlets during a web clampdown during the coronavirus pandemic. Pictured, a woman wearing a face mask uses her mobile phone at a subway station in Beijing on April 11





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The web authority claimed that some accounts had caused social unrest with 'fabricated hot topics' and 'sensational headlines' while others were said to have 'maliciously tampered with the history of the party and the country'. 

Certain authors also posed as authorities to mislead the public, slandered and smeared heroes and martyrs, and promoted sexual content, the CAC slammed.

The clampdown was carried out by regional cyberspace authorities, such as the ones in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangdong.

Major Chinese internet companies, including Tencent, NetEase and Sina, also conducted 'self-rectification'.

An official statement said that 6,126 articles were 'cleared' and 18,576 accounts were suspended or shut.

The government will spend the next two months clamping down on 'malicious marketing accounts', according to the statement.

China's coronavirus outbreak has tested the limits of free speech on its heavily censored internet. Pictured, a boy wearing a face mask walks along a street in Wuhan on April 24

China is home to the largest online community in the world.

As of December, there were around 3.67million apps available in the country and the number of downloads of social and information software programmes amounted to 116billion times that month, according to CAC.

China's coronavirus outbreak has tested the limits of free speech on the country's heavily censored online and social media.

A brief window of liberalisation opened during January but was subsequently slammed shut by authorities.

While censorship in China has tightened under President Xi Jinping, questions of transparency around the coronavirus are especially sensitive.

Beijing's cover-up of the extent of the 2003 SARS epidemic had fuelled suspicion and mistrust and led to official calls for openness this time around.

While censorship in China has tightened under President Xi, questions of transparency around the outbreak are especially sensitive. Xi is pictured visiting the province of Shaanxi on April 20

The online buzz about the outbreak flourished, with netizens largely unfettered in criticising local authorities - but not central government leaders - over their handling of the crisis.

That liberalisation came to end in early February. Censors reportedly shut down WeChat groups and scrubbed social media posts, according to Chinese reporters. Authorities also reprimanded tech firms that gave free rein to online speech.

Especially, China's censorship machine was tested when Dr Li Wenliang, a Chinese doctor who had been reprimanded for issuing an early warning about coronavirus, died of the disease on February 7, triggering widespread outrage as well as mourning.

Online media outlets were permitted to report on Dr Li's death, but not the anger it had engendered, and early discussions on social media calling for the Wuhan government to apologise to him later disappeared.

The death of Dr Li Wenliang, who had tried to warn the public about a 'SARS-like' virus, caused an uproar among the Chinese citizens, who accused the government of silencing the medic

Chen Qiushi, a citizen journalist who was sending dispatches from Wuhan over Twitter - which is blocked in China - including images of corpses in the city's hospitals, has been forcibly put under quarantine since February 7, according to his family and a friend managing his account in his absence.

Many Chinese Internet users have turned to black humour or shared images, songs and other art forms in private WeChat groups to express their dismay. One phrase widely shared mocked how many Internet pages and content were now showing 'server not found' or '404'.

'404+404+404+404+404=2020,' said the shared post.

The coronavirus pandemic emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December.

COVID-19, the diseased caused by the virus, ?????? has killed at least 4,632 people and infected more than 82,804 inside China, according to the latest figures from the Chinese National Commission.

Worldwide, more than 190,000 people have died and over 2.7 million have contracted the contagion in the health crisis.