Today the Chinese people have something new to fear, something that could force many to be very careful of what they say on the Internet, for it could land them in prison. According to a new interpretation by the Supreme Court of Chinese law, anyone posting “online rumors” on social networks will be charged with spreading defamatory messages if their message(s) is viewed 5,000 times or retweeted/shared/reposted 500 times. The punishment associated with this crime is prison time of up to three years.
We understand this law is designed to crack down on “Black PR Firms” across China. These firms are basically companies that make money by removing uncomplimentary information from the Internet. Furthermore, Black PR Firms sometimes play dirty by spreading misinformation and gossip about other companies (by flooding social networks with this misinformation) and then later approach these same companies for money to have the smudge removed.
Recently, several Sina Weibo accounts controlled by a massive Black PR Firm were closed down in an attempt to put an end to smear campaigns. The accounts in question had over 220 million followers combined, which is why you can see the Chinese government wants to crack down on these companies.
Now, we understand the motives behind this move by the Chinese government, but there is no doubt that normal, innocent social network users will be caught in the crossfire, and that is in no way a good thing. Plus, forget crossfire — what about intentional abuse of the law? It would be best if the Supreme Court review their ruling, because it is no easy task to accurately determine who is working for a Black PR Firm from who is not.
Let’s hope no innocent Chinese social network junkie gets sent to prison for up to three years due to this law, how sad it would be. A moment of silence for our Chinese friends, thank you.