Internet authorities target disinformation and scams amid outbreak

China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) released guidelines Tuesday that aim to clean up Covid-19 virus-related disinformation and close security loopholes, and it expects tech companies to pitch in.

Why it matters: The of Covid-19 has created a great deal of uncertainty, creating opportunity for unscrupulous behavior such as scams.

  • This announcement is another move in a “people’s war” against the virus and the disinformation which comes with it. The ministry is enlisting help from the public as well as tech companies.

Details: MIIT’s announcement requires “emergency handling of illegal and fake information.”

  • The ministry calls for cooperation with government departments to carry out real-time monitoring of risks and dealing with fake information.
  • The notice singles out medical institutions and government agencies to strengthen network security.
  • It calls for internet order to be maintained, by targeting phishing sites and scams which involve sending internet users false information such as bogus flight changes or fake medical supplies.
  • It requires internet companies to make positive contributions to epidemic control.

Context: China’s largest tech companies have already become involved in epidemic control, setting up health code systems and websites that debunk rumors.

  • After closing 350 WeChat public accounts on Feb. 8, Tencent said that it had set up a special team to clean up virus-related rumors. “Do not use WeChat to do illegal things,” the statement added.
  • On Wednesday, Tencent closed a media account under its own umbrella, “Dajia” which had published articles critical of government information release and argued that rumormongers should see due process in the courts.
  • In a press conference on Friday, a MIIT representative said that data use should be limited to virus prevention and control in response to a question about whether epidemic was creating conditions where user privacy was being infringed upon.

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