Don't spread rumors over the Internet if you'll be in China soon, because if that rumor catches on with a startlingly small number of the country's 1.3 billion people then you could face some jail time. The country's top court drafted a law on Monday interpreting how the spread of "online rumors" should be handled by lawmakers in the future. According to the new orders, Reuters reports, people who post false rumors online could be charged with defamation and face three years in prison. The rumor must be read 5,000 times or reposted 500 times on social media before the courts could step in, but that's not an outrageously high threshold in a country with so many people.
The government has been trying to crack down on citizens using social media, like China's popular Twitter-clone Sina Weibo, and online forums to share opinions that regard the government unfavorably. The government previously tried setting up a website to combat the spread of false rumors online. Their primary concern is citizens who speak out agains the government, clearly, but there are new rules included for rumors that would classify as cyber bullying stateside. If a post causes someone to commit "suicide or self-mutilation," defamation charges could follow. Of course people could also face charges for posts that cause protests, or have a "bad international effect." "No country would consider the slander of other people as 'freedom of speech'," court spokesman Sun Jungong told reporters on Monday.
That going viral at all in China is now illegal if what you say is false, or out of line with what the government thinks, or could to be linked to someone hurting himself, is slightly mind-boggling. There are so many false rumors that go viral over the course of a week that U.S. courts would be plugged with defamation charges if similar laws were ever enacted stateside. False rumors spread on Monday morning about United Nation's Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, and they prompted a response from the organization. Or, how about the fake rumor about the 42 suicidal One Direction fans? Or the fake celebrity Twitter accounts that fake celebrity deaths? Half of what the blogging industrial complex does now is debunk fake rumors that spread on the Internet. The people who started these rumors could all face jail time in China. Maybe... no, nevermind.
[Pictured: Chinese blogger Isaac Mao, seen in this 2012 file photo, had more than 30,000 followers on Weibo before the government shut down his account.]
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.