China has welcomed the news that internet giants are clamping down on ‘fake news’, and have offered advice on how to implement internet censorship.
Chinese officials claims that the latest fake news crisis is a justification for Western governments to follow China’s lead on punishing publishers online with far more punitive measures that the ones currently being discussed.
Ren Xianling, No.2 at the Cyberspace Administration of China, said internet users posting false stories should be punished. Mr Ren advised “using identification systems for netizens who post fake news and rumors, so they could ‘reward and punish’ them,” Reuters reports.
He was speaking at the third annual World Internet Conference, with Western technology companies including Microsoft and Qualcomm in attendance.
China’s top internet companies seem eager to help. The Government line was bolstered by Chinese companies, Reuters notes. TenCent chairman Ma Huateng seemingly attributing Trump’s victory to insufficient internet speech regulation.
Social media rumours have been a concern for China’s government for some time. In July, the Government prevented news organisations citing news on social media without approval.
Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg rejected the claims in a Facebook post at the weekend.
The proposition that “fake news” may have explained Trump’s marginal victory in the rustbelt States became popular amongst vanquished Democrat supporters last week. The argument is that changes to Facebook’s “News Feed” algorithm earlier this year began to weight stories shared by a user’s friends more heavily than “genuine” stories sourced to professional media. This gave an incentive for clickbait farms to generate fictional stories to feed the demand for sensational claims.
Over a hundred news domains generating clickbait were reportedly traced to one single operation run by teenagers in the town of Veles, Macedonia. Buzzfeed found that the teens had experimented with generating sensational and bogus stories designed for progressives, such as Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, but they didn’t generate as many clicks as anti-Clinton stories Trump supporters shared.
However this argument owes more to faith than reason. No “fake” story reached more than one million “engagements” (likes or shares). More than twice as many Americans get their news from the TV than they do the internet. It also requires the reader or sharer of a piece of “fake news” clickbait to have turned out to vote, when they otherwise would not have done, or to have switched sites as the result of a piece of clickbait.