China has arrested five people on charges of blackmail and spreading false information online, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported yesterday, as the government intensifies a campaign to banish rumors.
The Internet, and microblogs, have proven a potent alternative to China’s tightly-censored state media as an outlet for grievances and a way to out corrupt officials.
But analysts say the ruling Communist Party’s relative lack of control makes officials nervous.
Xinhua said Ge Qiwei, whom it called the leader of the group arrested, had posed as a journalist and tried to blackmail officials with negative information.
“He also fabricated and spread rumors to create trouble, which has severely smeared the image of local governments and disturbed social order,” it added, quoting the prosecutor’s office in the city of Hengyang in south-central Hunan province.
Hundreds of people have been detained in China since August, say Chinese media and rights groups, as the government has stepped up efforts to rein in online rumors. Most have been released, but some are still being held on criminal charges.
Nevertheless, China’s state broadcaster CCTV News said yesterday one of its Twitter accounts had been hacked, and deleted a tweet claiming the country’s president had set up a special unit to probe corruption accusations against a former domestic security chief.
The tweet on Monday evening appeared to refer to an article in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper.
“The CCTV News Twitter account was targeted on October 21 and used illegally to post incorrect information copied from other sources,” CCTV said through its English-language Twitter account. “The unauthorized information was deleted.”
CCTV spokeswoman Zhang Xiaojian confirmed that one of the broadcaster’s Twitter accounts was hacked, but did not elaborate.
China, which is often accused of orchestrating hacking attacks, says it is one of the world’s biggest victims of such activity.