Chinese microblog suspends accounts for false rumors

New York, August 29, 2011–A Chinese microblog’s announcement that it suspended two accounts for spreading rumors may be an attempt to rein in online news reporting, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

Weibo, the Twitter-like web platform run by popular online information portal Sina, announced on Friday that two user accounts had been suspended for one month for transmitting false rumors, international news reports said. One user was suspended for saying that a man accused of killing a woman was released because of his father’s political connections, The New York Times said. Another user’s account was suspended after he accused the Red Cross Society of China of profiting from the sale of donated blood, the Times reported. Sina denied both reports in one of at least two notices sent to users of the service, translated by the Hong Kong University-based China Media Project.

“This is an attempt to deter journalists and bloggers from using Sina’s microblog service to report breaking news,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “Chinese authorities concerned by rumors would be better served by allowing free reporting in the nation’s media–not by stepping up online controls.”

Communist Party news outlets like the Global Times and People’s Daily have criticized social networking sites in recent weeks. Weibo came under particular scrutiny by authorities as a platform for popular anger after a train crashed in Wenzhou and a chemical plant was damaged in Dalian. Firsthand accounts of the accidents and criticism of the government’s response circulated widely online despite propaganda department regulations forbidding negative reporting.

Sina, which has 200 million users, seems to be under increasing pressure from Chinese authorities. Last week, Liu Qi, Beijing’s Communist Party secretary, publicly visited the company’s headquarters and exhorted Internet companies to “step up the application and management of new technology, and absolutely put an end to fake and misleading information,” according to The Wall Street Journal. Sina responded with a statement on Thursday saying it would “put more effort into attacking all kinds of rumors,” The Associated Press said.

Twitter is blocked in China, and local Internet companies are bound by their licensing agreements to monitor and censor content. Other Chinese microblog platforms have been forced to close during times of tight online security, according to CPJ research.