Tencent Holdings, operator of China’s biggest social media platform WeChat, said it reached almost 300 million people with its campaign to debunk fake news last year as Chinese regulators and private Internet companies continue their clean up of online content.
WeChat, the ubiquitous messaging and social media app with more than one billion users, partnered with 774 third-party organisations, including the police and China’s food and drug authority, to produce 3,994 articles debunking rumours in 2018, according to a report released by Tencent on Jan 21. The articles were read more than 1 billion times, reaching 295 million users.
Tencent’s rumour debunkers, using a mini-program in WeChat, worked in concert with dedicated official WeChat accounts and a fact-checking platform for its news services. The mini-program alone posted myth-buster stories that generated 230 million visits from more than 38 million users last year.
Popular fake news topics ranged from food safety and health care to stories about society. One of the most widely circulated rumours, a claim that onions can kill the flu virus, was shared over 400,000 times on the social media app, mainly among males aged 25 to 55, according to the report.
The middle-aged and elderly, while vulnerable to rumours, are also active in circulating the fake news, especially stories stoking fears of death and health hazards. Due to their lower level of education and inability to identify misinformation, elderly people in rural areas are more likely to spread the rumours than those in cities, the report shows.
Tencent’s rumour-squashing efforts come amid the Chinese government’s ongoing clean-up of Internet content, which starting from late October saw 9,800 social media accounts shut down in three weeks on platforms such as WeChat, microblogging site Weibo, search engine Baidu, and news aggregator Jinri Toutiao.
Tech companies and social media globally have been caught up in the battle to combat misinformation, where fake news can easily reach billions of people instantly. Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service on Jan 22 said it would restrict the number of people a message can be forwarded to, which follows Facebook’s earlier efforts to hire human moderators to monitor online content.
The Cyberspace Administration of China said in November that tighter control of Internet content producers would be the “new norm”. From January to November last year, Tencent said it closed 105 WeChat accounts and deleted more than 10,000 articles for spreading rumours, while 38,761 accounts were “cleaned up” for allowing lowbrow content and another 50,000 were removed for plagiarism.
Earlier this month Chinese authorities introduced detailed regulations covering content allowed on the country’s short video platforms, which boast 594 million users, as part of a six-month online clean-up campaign launched by the cyberspace administration earlier this month to police information that deemed “negative and harmful”. – Reuters