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China: Go viral, go to jail

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Creating viral content generally has a positive impact on its creator. It can lead to book deals, media coverage, or, at the very least, more eyeballs on what you create. But in China, going viral can now land you in jail.

That's because new laws issued by China's supreme court say that people using social media sites like the popular Twitter-like Sina Weibo could face up to three years in prison for defamation if an "online rumor" posted to a site is viewed more than 5,000 times or reposted more than 500 times, according to Reuters.

While there's definitely major free speech concerns, there is at least one legitimate reason for China to discourage rumors, Quartz reports:

The law is the latest attempt to crack down on “black PR firms,” companies that make money from removing unflattering information from the internet. Among other things, black PR firms often target companies, spreading gossip or misinformation about them, and then approaching them for payment in exchange for removing the smear campaign. It’s a big business; as TechinAsia pointed out recently, the Sina Weibo accounts controlled by a huge black PR firm that was just busted had a total audience of 220 million followers.

The problem, of course, is that for every "black PR firm" caught there are stories of journalists being jailed for "rumor-mongering" and citizens being jailed because they "incited dissatisfaction with the government." Those jail sentences weren't three years then, but now that's a distinct possibility.

Photo: Flickr/jonrussell

— By on September 10, 2013, 2:34 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure