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China's self-media accused of blackmailing enterprises by threatening to spread misinformation

Photo: Xinhua

China's fast-expanding self-media has come under spotlight again after state-run Xinmin Evening News published an article accusing some editors of blackmailing profitable businesses by threatening to spread misinformation about them.

In the country, self-media refers to independently operated social media accounts on platforms such as WeChat, Weibo, and other smaller ones — usually run by individual users.

"They are just like gangsters, not only demanding so-called "protection fees" from major companies, but also launching regular attacks on them after being refused to provide sponsorship," the piece said.

"To generate maximum interest, some of them even act in collusion with certified reporters," it added.

The newspaper also pointed out that some self-media are more likely to target private enterprises which are not backed by the government in the disguise of protecting consumers' legitimate rights and interests, and the hush money even skyrockets to 300,000 yuan.

Fearing that rumors spread by self-media might hurt their normal business operations, most companies would give up to them instead of seeking legal protection.

In an attempt to explain why they choose to swallow the bitter pill, an employee of a property developer said, "Self-media extortion often goes in a hidden or mysterious manner, so we rarely have a chance to collect evidence."

"With a large number of followers, their Internet articles can exert huge influence on the image of companies," he added.

"Due to platforms' complex and slow complaint handling process, self-media's fake news can go viral before being censored."

Often, the first 48 hours are the prime time for an Internet article to spread. However, platforms may have to spend at least five days to check whether they are in violation with relevant laws and regulations, according to Lu Lei, an official at a Shanghai cyberspace security department.

China's state media including Xinhua News Agency, People's Daily, and Global Times recently published articles to warn self-media to maintain self-discipline and urge relevant platforms to step up efforts to fight against fake news.

"Self-media is not a place outside of judicial reach," people.cn, an affiliate of the Communist Party mouthpiece People's Daily, said in a commentary. "Chasing profits is nothing to be ashamed of, but practitioners need to comply with laws and regulations at first."

"Instead of making gains illegally and spreading fake news, self-media should publish more high-quality Internet articles to rake in Web traffic."

Self-media extortion came after rampant plagiarism sparked controversy in the booming industry.

To make money, some editors plagiarize the core content of the hot Internet articles and produce similar ones at low cost, state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) reported.

Some self-media might even earn 200,000 yuan one month, but their practices have harmed the enthusiasm of original authors, it added.


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