China to Online News Organizations: No More Social Media to Source Your Stories

China to Online News Organizations: No More Social Media to Source Your Stories
Photo Credit: Reuters/達志影像
What you need to know

Is the latest move from China’s Internet watchdog a fresh sign of draconian oversight or just a push toward more sensible journalism?

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Online news media in China have been barred from basing their stories on information collected from social media.

News websites in China must now verify any reports that are based on content from social media platforms, according to a notice issued by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC).

The CAC says “news websites must accredit these sources, and they are banned from fabricating stories or distorting fact,” Xinhua reports.

The state-owned news agency notes that CAC has punished a number of major websites for allegedly fabricating stories, including sina.com, ifeng.com, 163.com and a site run by China tech giant Tencent.

The new CAC rule has been interpreted by some as a fresh sign of China’s ever-tightening grip on online media.

However, as the Reuters Handbook of Journalism notes, journalists should “exercise caution when publishing information from social media platforms.”

“Posters can fake an identity, make up information, doctor images and engage in a wide range of deception. You should have reason to trust the poster.”

Still, while the CAC appears concerned about the publication of non-factual news stories, a Harvard University study released last month suggests the Chinese government fabricates and posts about 448 million social media comments a year.

The goal of the “this massive secretive operation” – estimates of the number of people involved range from hundreds of thousands to several million – was to “regularly distract the public and change the subject," as most posts "involve cheerleading for China, the revolutionary history of the Communist Party, or other symbols of the regime.”

The Chinese Communist Party, which enforces some of the world’s most restrictive media censorship practices, has long-argued that its control of information is important for continued social stability.

Reporters Without Borders, a non-government organization which tracks press freedoms around the world, ranked China 176th in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index. It says that in addition to “building a Great Firewall to monitor and control blogs and social networks, the Communist Party exercises total control over China’s many media outlets.”

The latest move from the CAC follows an announcement last month that it was ramping-up purging of comments by China’s nearly 700 million Internet users.

On June 22, the CAC said it would eliminate "unhealthy information" and promote “helpful and well-intentioned” messages.

Ren Xianliang (任賢良), deputy head of the administration, was quoted as saying the government intends to increase the rate of purges in comments sections and to provide easier access for people to report "inappropriate remarks." He issued the orders to government-controlled commercial Internet companies and news websites during a nationwide video conference.

First Editor: J. Michael Cole
Second Editor: Olivia Yang