Several suspected online rumor-mongers have been detained in the last few days, raising concerns that Internet celebrities may have helped to fabricate and spread rumors.
Yang Xiuyu, founder of the Erma Company, and employee Qin Zhihui, were arrested on Aug. 20 for starting and spreading online rumors and profiting from the illegal acts, according to Beijing police.
Without fact-checking, some online personalities retweeted and commented on sensational microblog feeds created by unknown people, resulting in the spread of rumors among numerous Internet users.
Statistics show that there are about 200 online users with more than 10 million followers on Sina and Tencent Weibo, China's microblogging social networks. Another 3,300 users have more than one million followers and 19,000 are followed by over 100,000 people.
With tremendous numbers of "fans" on China's most influential microblogging service, online celebrities who spread false information can have an unexpectedly negative effect on the public.
Online rumors threaten victims' privacy, harm their reputations, mislead the public and disrupt social order. The spread of rumors violates both morality and the law.
Moreover, circulation of false information on the Internet can mislead young people into thinking they can resort to cyberspace to vent feelings, thus creating negative influence in shaping their outlook on life.
Internet celebrities who enjoy powerful rights of speech by influencing followers have a civic responsibility to deliver more positive and constructive messages and promote virtue and trust.
Online personalities should be more prudent when retweeting unverified information and be more discriminating to avoid being used by rumor-mongers.
Despite the right of liberal online speech, opinion leaders ought to observe laws and regulations and safeguard the bottom line of morality and authenticity of information.