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27 July


China’s internet watchdog tightens online controls with new app to squash rumours

The app, called the United Rumour Debunking Platform, was set up by the Cyberspace Administration of China and state news agency Xinhua

/NOVOSTIVL/ China’s cyberspace watchdog has launched a new smartphone app to spearhead its latest campaign against online misinformation in the world’s biggest internet market.

The app, called the United Rumour Debunking Platform, was introduced by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) and state news agency Xinhua, according to an announcement by the internet regulator on Saturday. The app forms the basis of new mini-programs that will run within major Chinese consumer apps, including Tencent Holdings-owned WeChat, Alipay from Ant Group and search giant Baidu.

The app and mini programs will enable users to quickly fact-check online rumours by providing access to relevant articles from official news media, government authorities and various industry experts. Users can also report any rumours via the app and mini programs, according to the announcement.

The new campaign by CAC and Xinhua follows their creation of a rumour-debunking website in 2018, which they had described as an initiative to “improve the online literacy of netizens and create a clean internet space”. Since its launch, that site has received more than 30,000 reports on suspected rumours and published about 9,000 articles debunking various subjects of misinformation.

The new app marks China’s latest effort to engage its vast population of internet users, numbering more than 900 million, amid a flood of false information online – including those about the coronavirus outbreak and the souring relations between Beijing and Washington – which circulate within the country’s Great Firewall.

The United Rumour Debunking Platform targets a wide range of topics, from health-related claims about tofu’s link to breast cancer and political statements on human rights issues in Xinjiang, according to examples found on the app. It indicated that the most talked about rumours last month involved false claims about 5G antennas installed in facial masks and how this mobile technology causes cancer.

Rumours are a “mental placebo” for the public that helps them relieve anxiety arising from the fast-paced modern life, according to researchers Yu Qianqian and Zhou Zhenghua, members of the Tencent Research Institute, in a report published in April.

“Faced with new problems arising from food, health care, the environment and so on, people are more sensitive to risks and they tend to believe in rumours … This mentality is used as a tool for rumour makers to induce people to believe in pseudoscience,” the researchers wrote in their report.

Still, there remains local scepticism about the credibility of Chinese government sources. That escalated during the start of the Covid-19 outbreak in China earlier this year, when doctor Li Wenliang, was reprimanded by local police for sharing so-called fake news about the public health crisis. He died on February 6 aged 33, after contracting the previously unknown coronavirus.

At present, tech companies and social media providers around the world remain in the thick of a global battle against fake news, which can reach billions of people instantly. Shenzhen-based Tencent, for example, has already developed its own rumour-squashing mini-program on WeChat.

Source: SCMP