China Ups the Ante Against False Online Content Over Lunar New Year

China’s top internet regulator has launched a month-long campaign to clean up online content circulating during the upcoming Lunar New Year, with one focus on a tougher crackdown on false information, including fictitious Covid policies and epidemic trends.

In a campaign from Wednesday through the end of February, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) will step up its efforts to correct false information to prevent it from "amplifying gloomy sentiment," the regulator said in a statement.

Specifically, the CAC will intensify its crackdown on COVID-related online rumors and punish those who fabricate information about epidemic trends during the Lunar New Year, the latest COVID policies, antiviral treatments and patient experiences to prevent such information from misleading the public and causing panic, according to the statement issued on Wednesday.

The move comes as millions of people a day travel home for one of the country's most important holidays, fueling fears of another surge in COVID infections even as officials say China is already past the peak of its current wave.

The campaign will also strictly control the release of personal accounts by residents of what they see and hear in their hometowns to avoid spreading false information that "deliberately incites accusations against a region, spreads anxiety and exaggerates the dark side of society," the statement says. The Lunar New Year public holiday officially runs from Saturday through Jan. 27.

COVID has spread like wildfire since China abandoned its hyper-restrictive zero-COVID policy early last month. In major cities like Beijing, hospitals and crematoriums have been overwhelmed, and residents have rushed to stock up on cold and fever medications as well as antivirals.

The number of fever clinic visitors, emergency patients and critically ill patients nationwide has retreated from its peak, a National Health Commission official said at a news conference on Thursday. Days earlier, amid growing concerns about a lack of transparency in the country's official data, the health agency said China recorded some 60,000 COVID-related deaths at medical facilities from Dec. 8 to Jan. 12.

In addition, the CAC said it will closely monitor the new year gala, China's most-watched television show, broadcast on national TV, as well as film and television productions released during the holiday season, as part of efforts to strengthen governance of fandom culture.

The campaign is also targeting issues including ostentatious wealth, promotion of overeating, online gambling and fraud, feudal superstition, cyberbullying and internet addiction.
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