Chinese Courts: Malignant Edit-Retweeting May Be Illegal


The Chinese supreme court, the Supreme People’s Court, issued on 09 October 2014 a new regulation which enters into effect on 10 October 2014. In it, the court has ruled has ruled (contents in simplified Chinese) that edit-retweeting, whilst not by itself illegal, may be problematic if the edit-retweet involves materially changing the title of the post, where it may mislead the general public.

The new rules are part of a new legal document issued by the court, which goes by a very long title of: Regulations of the Supreme People’s Court Regarding Several Questions Dealing with Law Application in Civil Cases of Invasions to People’s Rights and Interests via the Internet (最高人民法院关于审理利用信息网络侵害人身权益民事纠纷案件适用法律若干问题的规定).

The issues to be dealt with under the new regulations are in particular issues visible on Weibo. In the past, as a hypothetical example, a post by a national newspaper on controversial issues may have been retweeted with the title or comments in the resulting retweet re-edited to mean something quite different. Thus, a post about the recent Occupy Central protests might be problematic if a student protest was wrongly labelled “pro-Beijing” or “pro-democracy”. The ruling makes it clear that even retweets might end up being an issue if the post title has seen substantial changes from the original — in particular in the event of factual aberrations.

In addition to clamping down on malignant edit-retweeting, the ruling (s. Chinese) now also formalises a ban on the paid deleting of posts, as well on the activities of bogus users, by regarding agreements involving paid deletion or bogus users as illegal in the eyes of the law.

The Internet is being increasingly regulated in China (in the eyes of many outsiders, the excess of censored content is a “trademark” of the Chinese Internet), but even here, ordinary users don’t feel safe. News media quoted Yao Hui, Deputy Chief of the People’s Supreme Court’s First Court, mentioned that cases involving the Web remained hard to crack, commenting that “those who seek to violate rights often do so ‘in the dark’, so that litigation is made difficult because the suspect is hard to ascertain”.

Weibo is regarded in China as a (comparatively) freer place to air thoughts (in spite of censorship, stepped up in particular during the recent Occupy Central protests, when even pro-Beijing posts by users were censored), but remains a place where insults are traded alongside more rational debates, and the large number of accounts for “grey” purposes (including bogus users) remains an issue.

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