While Sina Weibo is issuing its IPO in America, back home it is still dealing with the Chinese government’s continued censorship of the social media network. Today, a major figure on the microblogging network, Qin Zhihui (aka Qin Huohuo which translates to Qin Fire Fire) has been sentenced to three years in prison without the chance of an appeal, continuing the governments Weibo censorship.
The announcement of the verdict was made, without a hint of irony, on the Beijing Chaoyang court Weibo’s page.
Zhihui was accused of spreading misinformation on the Weibo microblogging site, resulting in charges of libel and defamation. The court stated that Zhihui’s actions resulted in “adverse social impact.”
While Zhihui’s lawyer maintains that his client didn’t knowingly spread false information, Zhihui still pled guilty and issued a public apology. This, the court said, is the reason for what is called a “light” punishment.
While other prominent Weibo bloggers have been arrested in China before, the government usually found a different reason to arrest them, and then made them renounce their social media actions. According to Tech in Asia, Charles Xue, another popular Chinese social media personality, was arrested for soliciting prostitutes but it is highly suspected that it was his online activity that caused the arrest. This may be the first known time the Chinese Government has arrested a Weibo blogger purely for microblogging.
Zhihui’s lawyer argued that everything Zhihui shared was already on Weibo, and he had no way of knowing that it was false information.
Interestingly, the court argued that Zhihui’s success was a major reason why his messages were “serious” and needed to be punished. Apparently, the “conviction threshold” for misinformation put on Chinese social media has everything to do with how many views and shares you get. According to the Chinese language article (and Google translate) misinformation that is viewed 5,000 times and/or shared 500 times constitutes a “serious circumstance” where punishment is justified.
Moral of the story? If you are going to spread embarrassing information on Weibo about the powers that be, make sure it doesn’t go viral (but then, what is the point?).
[Photo Credit: Weibo]
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