Five hundred retweets can land Chinese Internet users in prison

Weibo is an extremely popular "microblogging" site in China and the country's equivalent of Twitter.  Credit: Sina Weibo
Weibo is China’s equivalent of Twitter.
Credit: Sina Weibo

On Monday, the Supreme People’s Court and the Supreme People Procuratorate issued a new rule that Internet users who post defamatory items that are reposted 500 times or viewed 5,000 times on the Internet could face up to three years in prison, according to China Daily.

The punishment for posting slanderous material on the Internet varies depending on the impact of the material. The interpretation states that people who post content that harms victims to the extent of mental illness or suicide will receive the most severe punishment, which can be a maximum of three years in prison, as reported by China Daily.

Carl Minzner, associate professor at Fordham Law School and Chinese legal expert, said this will have a significant impact on the social media landscape in China. “It will definitely have a chilling effect on the Chinese Internet,” he said. “And that’s exactly what is intended.”

Sun Jungong, a spokesman for the top court, told Xinhua that Internet users will not be prosecuted as long as they are not intentionally slandering others. Minzner said the vague nature of the rule gives the state flexibility on applying it.

The Chinese government has a complicated relationship with social media. On one hand, activists have used social media as a tool to spread antagonistic messages about the government. On the other, netizens have also used social media to blow the whistle on corrupt officials, bringing them to the attention of higher authorities. One famous example is “Watch Brother,” a local official who was brought down by hawk-eyed netizens who posted photos on Weibo of the official wearing five different luxury watches – more than a man should be able to afford on a state salary. President Xi Jinping has praised the actions of such whistleblowers, saying the government needs “the supervision of the people” in order to fight corruption.

Nonetheless, the government has tightened its grip on social media in recent years, taking steps that include registering social media users with their real names and ID numbers. Minzner says the new rule will make people think twice before posting or reposting rumors on Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, but won’t stop hardcore social and political critics on Weibo.

“It’s not like you wake up tomorrow and there will be no critical postings on the Internet. The people who are really interested in reposting or putting critical information up there, they might still do it and increasingly run the risk of getting in trouble,” said Minzner. “Other people might be afraid of the consequences and gradually back off from posting rumors or political posts.”

Sun told China Daily that as of June, the count of netizens in China hit 591 million. Minzner said the increased influence of social media in China is a major reason for the state to take the reins with new laws. “This is one component of a broad state effort to sort of rethink and ramp up and take control of social media – not just for political purposes, but also for the social impact,” said Minzner. Weibo users are already mocking the new rule, tweeting images of 500 with the “00″ as handcuffs.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Mayor announces public housing improvements

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke at the Lincoln Houses in East Harlem on Wednesday, calling for the scaffolding to come down at NYCHA complexes across…

National

Peter Theo Curtis: American released by Syrian militants…

An American writer freed this week from two years in the captivity of insurgents in Syria spoke briefly outside his family's Cambridge home Wednesday of…

Local

Bratton defends 'broken windows' work as NYPD support…

Sixty percent of those polled said they support the "broken windows" theory approach popularized by Commissioner Bratton since his first term in the 1990s.

Local

Transit changes for Labor Day weekend

The MTA is adding additional service Friday for New Yorkers getting out of the city for the long weekend. On Friday, Aug. 29, 27 additional…

Television

'Full House' might be relaunched with some of…

A new "Full House" might be in the works.

Movies

Review: 'The Congress' is a crazy, unwieldy sci-fi…

Robin Wright is the center of gravity in "The Congress," which turns from a live-action Hollywood satire into an animated spectacular on a downer future.

Movies

Review: 'The Last of Robin Hood' is a…

Dakota Fanning plays Errol Flynn's (Kevin Kline) teenage gal pal in "The Last of Robin Hood," which takes a scandal and makes it dully empathetic.

Movies

Review: The uneven 'Life of Crime' mostly gets…

Elmore Leonard's "The Switch" becomes the new indie crime dramedy "Life of Crime," with Jennifer Aniston as a kidnapped woman whose husband won't pay up.

Sports

Serena Williams leaving legacy of talented American women…

It seems only a matter of when, not if, Serena Williams will win her 18th career grand slam championship.

College

When are 2014 college football playoffs? (Schedule, date,…

When and where are 2014 college football playoffs? A look at the schedule, date, TV, time for the semi-finals at championship game.

NFL

Dimitri Patterson suspended only for rest of preseason…

Dimitri Patterson ended up getting just a slap on the wrist.

Sports

Eugenie Bouchard excited for 'rowdy' fans at US…

Eugenie Bouchard is sure to endear herself to New York's tennis faithful as she tries to win her first grand slam title across the next two weeks.

Wellbeing

Heart trumps brain when it comes to movies…

When you need a good cry, do you reach for the movie that’s “based on a true story”? Science says you’re giving your brain far…

Sex

The 10 types of people you meet online

Does it ever seem like online dating profiles tend to get a little repetitive? It turns out you are not the only one to have…

Home

Labor Day essentials

Whether you’re soaking up the sun on the beach or barbecuing in the park here are some must-haves for your end-of-summer bash.

Education

Does the school day start too early?

As thousands of high schoolers get ready to head back to class, health experts say it may be time to push back the start of…