China has launched a platform which includes a mobile app that lets the public report “online rumours” and even uses artificial intelligence to identify reports that are false as Beijing cracks down on what it views as socially destabilising content. The platform launched on Wednesday comes as Beijing steps up efforts to police the internet, especially social media used by people to discuss politics and other sensitive subjects despite stringent censorship. Besides a website, the platform Piyao – which means “refuting rumours” – also has a mobile app and social media accounts with social media giants Weibo and WeChat. Via those channels, Piyao will broadcast “real” news sourcing reports from state-owned media, party-controlled local newspapers and various government agencies.
Official data show internet regulators received 6.7 million reports of illegal and false information in July with most of the cases coming from Sina that owns Weibo, Tencent which owns Wechat, Baidu and Alibaba. Chinese laws dictate that rumour-mongers could be charged with defamation and they face up to seven years in prison. Online posts that contain rumours visited by 5,000 internet users or are reposted more than 500 times could also incur jail sentences. Hosted by the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission in affiliation with the official Xinhua news agency, Piyao has integrated over 40 local rumour-refuting platforms and uses artificial intelligence to identify rumours.
The platform operates under the guidance of 27 government departments including the Central Party School which trains rising officials and powerful planning body the National Development and Reform Commission. Chinese media regularly reports on – and refutes – popular rumours that circulate online though generally only mentions topics involving issues like corrupt local officials or health scares rather than anything more salacious about senior leaders. President Xi Jinping said last year that China will build a “clean and clear” internet space.