• The Chinese government is threatening three to seven years in jail for spreading what it considers to be “rumors” on social media about the coronavirus response
  • Citizens in China were using the social media platform WeChat to spread videos showing the chaos inside the heart of the 2019-nCoV outbreak
  • At least eight people have been arrested so far and up to 40 have been investigated for spreading misinformation
  • State media was caught earlier in the week portraying an apartment complex in Qingdao, China as a new hospital in Wuhan

Things in China are going from bad to worse for the people just trying to survive the 2019-nCoV coronavirus outbreak that began in Wuhan, China. As reports of the coronavirus spread around the world, so does the ill-equipped response from Beijing, China. Now the Chinese government is threatening jail time for spreading what it considers to be “rumors” about the coronavirus response.

Everything Is Under Control

As the outbreak continues to spread outside China, the Chinese government has wanted to give the impression that things are completely under control. However, between the World Health Organization declaring the outbreak a global virus and countless viral videos from Chinese citizens, the situation appears to be far from under control.

To keep the perception that the Chinese government has the heart of the global epidemic under control, citizens are now being threatened with three to seven years in jail for posting what is deemed “misinformation.” Along with jail time, China is now using its online censorship system—known as the Great Firewall—to censor information the Chinese government deems to be a “rumor.”

Before the Chinese government began its crackdown, citizens and medical staff in China had been using the social media platform WeChat to spread videos to each other. The videos were leaked to other social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. The people of China have officially been warned that anybody who attempts to “disrupt social order” by posting anything to social media that is not sourced from state-run media will face jail time.

Alleged Whistleblower Claimed 90,000 Infected

The issue with social media posts seemed to escalate after a woman claiming to be a nurse Wuhan posted a video in a full-body protective suit said there were over 90,000 infected and 56 deaths. Her number was a huge jump from the 1,975 infections claimed at the time of the video’s release. “At this moment, Hubei province, including Wuhan area, even China, 90,000 people have been infected by the coronavirus,” the unnamed woman says.

The woman also warned people of the severity of the situation, pleading with people to not “party,” “eat out” or celebrate the Chinese New Year. “If you are safe now, you will be able to meet your family again healthy next year,” she says. She also made a desperate plea for supplies and claimed medical staff did not have enough resources to handle the outbreak. A claim that has proven to be true.

WeChat Cracks Down On Alleged Rumors

WeChat is not the only platform being used, but it has been one of the main platforms used to get information out to the public. Following the lead of the Chinese government, WeChat announced in a statement they would continue their “crackdown” on content deemed to be social media rumors with the help of “professional third-party rumor removal agencies.” The statement warns, “WeChat Safety Center reminds: Be extra calm and rational before the epidemic situation.”

On January 25, the WeChat Security Center issued the “Announcement on the Special Control of Rumors Related to New Coronavirus Pneumonia”. 
The “Announcement” stated that the new type of coronavirus pneumonia is continuing to spread throughout the country, causing widespread social concern. At the same time, all kinds of rumor messages of “online transmission” and “hearing” are constantly stimulating everyone’s panic. 
The “Criminal Law Amendment (9)” clearly stipulates: “The fabrication of false dangers, epidemics, disasters, and police information is spread on information networks or other media, or it is known that such false information is intentionally spread on information networks or other media. Those who severely disrupt the social order shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment, detention or control of less than 3 years; those who cause serious consequences shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of 3 to 7 years.”

WeChat will resolutely and continue to crack down on rumors. At present, professional third-party rumor removal agencies have been introduced to rumor rumors on the platform; and in accordance with relevant national laws and regulations and the Tencent WeChat Software License and Service Agreement, WeChat Personal Account Use Specifications and other relevant agreement specifications, the content of violations of information Deletion processing, and stepped punishment of violating accounts according to the degree of violation: including, but not limited to, limiting or permanently blocking accounts or account functions.

WeChat will set up a special group to clean up rumors related to “new coronavirus pneumonia” and continue to strengthen the rectification. Tencent’s authenticity verification platform will also conduct real-time rumors about new coronavirus pneumonia; users are also welcome to complain about related rumors. 
WeChat Safety Center reminds: Be extra calm and rational before the epidemic situation. Users should learn about the epidemic information from disease control or medical institutions and authoritative news media. The relevant epidemic prevention information is subject to the official website of the provincial and municipal health and health committees. Do not listen to rumors and increase Unnecessary psychological burden, do not believe rumors, do not spread rumors, improve alertness and recognition.

WeChat Via CCTV

Censoring Information

As of now, police in Wuhan have arrested at least eight people for “spreading rumors” about Beijing’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. State media reported up to 40 other people have been investigated for similar charges. BuzzFeed News reported the eight detained in Wuhan are doctors. It is common practice for the Chinese government to censor information it does not approve of regardless of it being true or not.

While it is doubtful that videos such as the alleged whistleblower nurse are just rumors, it is clear the Chinese government has been caught spreading rumors of their own. Earlier this week the Chinese state media and a government official shared an image they claimed was a newly constructed hospital building in Wuhan. In reality, the building shared was an apartment building 600 miles away in Qingdao, China.

The image was shared by state media outlets the Global Times, People’s Daily and Lijian Zhao, deputy director-general of the information department in the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

I Love You China

Recently, there have been strange Facebook posts coming out of the area. The posts seem very scripted, stating the situation is under control then ending by giving praise to the Chinese government. Four of the posts even make the same claim that “it will be restored soon.” One of the posts reads, “everything will return to normal soon, because we have powerful government and united people.” The post ends with, “I am grateful for living in such a country. I LOVE YOU CHINA.”

Rumors About Coronavirus Response

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