The Chinese government just tightened their defamation standards – a mind-boggling feat considering China already has some of the strictest libel laws in the world.
So what is the big change? As of this week, individuals can be thrown in jail for up to three years for one act of cyber libel.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about China’s new cyber-libel law is the exposure parameters. In order for a statement to be actionable under the new law, it must have been seen by more than 5,000 people, been re-posted more than 500 times or “caused the subject to hurt themselves, commit suicide or ‘experience a mental disorder.’”
Detractors of the new law say it only serves to silence Chinese citizens looking to expose political corruption. Since the nation’s newspapers, radio and television stations are state-owned, many people see the Internet as the only place available to have an open debate about politics and matters of public concern. Proponents, however, insist the law is needed and point to the fact that several Chinese lawmakers have been convicted and jailed for corruption exposed online (i.e., “we’re not trying to silence anybody!”).
Doug Young, author of “The Party Line: How the Media Dictates Public Opinion in Modern China,” opined that the new Chinese cyber libel law “will make people think twice, especially people with lots of followers, before going public with sloppily sourced news.” Beijing-based civil rights attorney, Pu Zhiqiang, warned, “Authorities in the future could selectively use this tool to punish people” but he also questions whether there is enough room in the jails to imprison all gossipmongers.
With nearly 591 million Web users in the country, we’re bound to hear about some jaw-dropping Chinese Internet libel cases from here on out.
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