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    Starting Online Rumors in China Can Get You 3 Years in Prison

    Written by

    Zach Sokol

    Image via Flickr Creative Commons

    If you live in China, don't spread a rumor online about your enemy, even if it's as harmless as "Did you hear he wears a fake Rolex?" According to South China Morning Post, the Supreme People's Court and Supreme People's Procuratorate, the country's top prosecution body, approved a document yesterday that makes it a criminal offense to spread rumors, libel or misinformation on the internet. 

    The rules go into effect today, including clauses such as if a false online post is viewed more than 5,000 times or forwarded more than 500 times then the creator could be sent to jail for up to three years.

    In addition, if an email or Weibo post with false information is found to spark mental illness, self-harm or suicide in the victim, then the ruling could become more serious. The same thing applies to any article or share that leads to mass protests, creates ethnic or religious fights, or tarnishes the nation's image. 

    The new laws also include rules against blackmail, extortion and posts that provoke online arguments. Does this mean that heated debates about Chinese films or rival sports teams could fall under illegality? There hasn't been a persecution about such trivial matters yet, though Chinese trolls should certainly be wary. 

    This ruling is vague, but according to Business Insider, 27 people from the city Wuhan were detained after authorities investigated an "online rumor speculation company." 

    There are roughly 30 million Sina Weibo users in China, comprising 30 percent of the country's internet users. Previously, libel charges only applied to what's known as "the public arena." According to Sun Jungong, the spokesman for the Supreme People's Court, "Cyberspace is also part of the public sphere. The internet has already been intertwined with people's real life." 

    We already know how China dismantles a website, now we know how it can go after the source of the grist for a rumor mill.