Chinese launch platform to tackle web rumor mill

BEIJING – China’s most influential web portals have banded together to build what is being billed as China’s first “rumor control” online site, a platform Chinese state media is trumpeting will help curb the spread of rumors that threaten “social harmony.” 

The new site known as the “Beijing United Internet Anti Rumor Platform,” debuted Thursday. It already has a database of around 100,000 entries said to be rumors that contain false information – as well as the purported truth behind the falsehoods.

The new platform is reportedly the creation of six of China’s major web companies, including the mainland’s Twitter-like service, Weibo, search engine, Baidu, and web portal Sohu.

Many of the websites involved declined to comment about the new platform, but an employee contacted at one of the companies suggested to NBC News that their participation in the new anti-rumor site may not necessarily have been on their own accord, but at the government’s request.

With a vibrant online population of over 564 million, the Internet in China is a source of news and entertainment for an increasingly plugged-in nation. For China’s ruling Communist Party though, the spread of online rumors – real or otherwise – is a constant source of headache and an ever-present challenge to Party control.

“Rumors can impose severe side effects on the social regulation,” warned an editorial in China’s Global Times newspaper. “They can cause widespread panic, disturb the order of society and damage the government’s credibility.”

The mechanism behind the new platform is relatively straight forward. Managed by the Beijing Internet Information Office, the new platform is designed to source information from search engines, microblog feeds and news websites to combat what are perceived to be dangerous rumors. In addition, the project includes around 30 websites that Internet users can report harmful online rumors and phishing websites to.

One recent example of the type of rumors the Chinese government is trying to combat happened in April when rumors spread across Weibo that a local Beijing hospital had discovered its first cases of H7N9 bird flu. The rumor sparked fear across the city at the time.

On the new platform, the old story is carefully debunked citing a Weibo posting from the hospital’s official account declaring they had no infected patient at that time.

Despite the site’s immediate mission to tackle Beijing-based rumors, the platform is also set up to address stories from across China and abroad.

NBC News’ Tian Li contributed to this report.

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