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Back to Index of Iniatives to Counter Fake News

Spreading fake news that seriously disturbs public order through an information network or other media is a crime under China’s Criminal Law and is punishable by up to seven years in prison. The 2016 Cybersecurity Law prohibits manufacturing or spreading fake news online that disturbs the economic and social order. The Law also requires service providers, when providing services of information publication or instant messaging, to ask the users to register their real names.

 According to the rules on internet news information services issued by the Cyberspace Administration of China, entities providing such services must obtain a license. When reprinting news, internet news information service providers may only reprint what has been released by certain news organizations prescribed by the state. The service providers and users are prohibited from producing, reproducing, publishing, or spreading information content prohibited by laws and administrative regulations. Once service providers find any prohibited content, they must immediately stop transmitting the information, delete the information, keep the relevant records, and report the matter to competent government authorities.

I. Introduction

In China, despite strict regulation of the media and internet, fake news, or what Chinese laws and domestic media often refer to as “rumors,” appears to be permeating the internet and social media. Tencent, the operator of China’s biggest social media platform Wechat, released a report in January 2019 on its fight against rumors spread online. According to the report, Wechat intercepted over 84,000 rumors in 2018. The report said 3,994 anti-rumor articles were published through Wechat during the year by 774 entities, including the government internet information authority, the police, the food and drug administration, and state media, and the articles were read by 294 million users. Popular fake news topics include food safety, health care, and other social issues.[1]

In an effort to fight fake news, in 2018, China launched a platform named “Piyao”—a Chinese word meaning “refuting rumors.”[2] The platform, which also has a mobile app and social media accounts, broadcasts “real” news sourced from state-owned media, party-controlled local newspapers, and various government agencies.[3]

The spreading of fake news may not simply be due to the availability of technologies to circulate it. A Foreign Policy article points out that, in China, there are other factors propelling the phenomenon: a deep sense of societal insecurity, the increasing politicization and commercialization of information, and a craving for self-expression.[4] The article argues that, “the party-led campaigns against rumors have been seen as attempts to take out potential critics and enemies. When the government labels something a rumor, that information comes to be seen not as fake but as something the government doesn’t want the public to know.”[5]

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II. Legal Framework

A. Criminal Law on Fake News

On August 29, 2015, China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee adopted the Ninth Amendment to the Criminal Law of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).[6] The Amendment added into the Law a crime of spreading fake news that seriously disturbs public order through an information network or other media. This offense is punishable by up to seven years in prison. Paragraph 2 of article 291a added by the Ninth Amendment states that

[w]hoever fabricates false information on [a] dangerous situation, epidemic situation, disaster situation or alert situation and disseminates such information via information network or any other media, or intentionally disseminates above information while clearly knowing that it is fabricated, thereby seriously disturbing public order, shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not more than three years, criminal detention or public surveillance; if the consequences are serious, he shall be sentenced to fixed-term imprisonment of not less than three years but not more than seven years.[7]

B. Cybersecurity Law

1. Manufacturing or Spreading Fake News Online

On November 7, 2016, the PRC Cybersecurity Law was adopted by the NPC Standing Committee.[8] Paragraph 2 of article 12 of the Law prohibits a series of activities from being conducted online, including manufacturing or spreading fake news online that disturbs the economic and social order.[9] Article 70 of the Law further provides that the publication or transmission of the information specified under article 12 paragraph 2, or information that is prohibited from publication or transmission under other laws or administrative regulations, is subject to penalties prescribed by relevant laws and regulations.[10]

2. Real-Name Registration

Under the Cybersecurity Law, when providing services of information publication or instant messaging, service providers must ask users to register their real names. The service providers must not provide relevant services to any users who do not perform the identity authentication steps.[11]

Where service providers fail to authenticate users’ identities, the competent authorities may order them to rectify their wrongdoings, suspend their businesses, shut down their websites, revoke relevant licenses, or impose a fine of 50,000 to 500,000 yuan (about US$7,500 to $75,000) on the service providers and/or 10,000 to 100,000 yuan (about US$1,500 to $15,000) on the responsible persons.[12]

C. Administrative Measures on Internet Information Services

On September 25, 2000, the State Council issued a regulation, the Administrative Measures on Internet Information Services, governing activities associated with providing internet information services within the territory of the PRC.[13]  

The Measures prohibit internet information services providers from producing, reproducing, publishing, or spreading prescribed information content, including rumors that disrupt social order or undermines social stability.[14] Whenever a service provider finds that prohibited content is being transmitted on their website, they must immediately stop the transmission, keep the relevant records, and report the matter to competent government authorities.[15]

D. Provisions on Internet News Information Services

On the basis of the PRC Cybersecurity Law and the Administrative Measures on Internet Information Services, on May 2, 2017, China’s central internet information authority, the Cyberspace Administration of China, issued the Provisions on Administration of Internet News Information Services.[16]

1. License Control

Under the Provisions, any entities providing internet news information services to the public—no matter whether that is through websites, apps, online forums, blogs, microblogs, social media public accounts, instant messaging tools, or live broadcastings—must obtain a license for internet news information services and operate within the scope of activities of the license.[17] The licenses are only issued to legal persons incorporated within the territory of the PRC, and the persons in charge and editors-in-chief must be Chinese citizens.[18]

Providing internet news information services without a proper license is punishable by a fine of 10,000 to 30,000 yuan (about US$1,500 to $4,500).[19]

2. Restrictions on Reprinting News

When reprinting news, internet news information service providers may only reprint what has been released by official state or provincial news organizations, or other news organizations prescribed by the state. The original sources, authors, titles, and editors must be indicated to ensure that the sources of the news are traceable.[20]

State or local internet content authorities may issue a warning to violators of this provision, order them to rectify their wrongdoings, suspend their news services, or impose a fine of 5,000 to 30,000 yuan (about US$750 to $4,500). Violators may also be criminally prosecuted, according to the Provisions.[21]

3. Prohibited Content

The Provisions also prohibit internet news information service providers and users from producing, reproducing, publishing, or spreading information content prohibited by laws and administrative regulations.[22] State or local internet content authorities may issue a warning to violators of this provision, order them to rectify their wrongdoings, suspend their news services, or impose a fine of 20,000 to 30,000 yuan (about US$3,000 to $4,500). Violators may also be criminally prosecuted, the Provisions state.[23]

4. Obligations of Service Providers

Once internet information service providers find any content prohibited by the Provision or other laws and administrative regulations, they must immediately stop transmitting the information, delete the information, keep the relevant records, and report the matter to competent government authorities.[24]  

The Provisions also repeat the requirement of real-name registration under the Cybersecurity Law, providing that internet news information services providers must ask users of the internet news information publication platform services to register their real names.[25]

Violators of these provisions are punishable by the state or local internet information authority in accordance with the Cybersecurity Law.[26]

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III. Access to Accurate Legal Information

A. Online Publication of Laws and Regulations

On March 15, 2015, the NPC revised the PRC Law on Legislation.[27] In this revision, two websites were added into the Law to officially publish Chinese laws and regulations: the NPC website[28] and the Chinese Government Legal Information Network.[29]

The NPC website is designated by the Law to officially publish laws adopted by the NPC and its standing committee. The laws are also published in the official NPC gazette and nationally-circulated newspapers.[30] Local regulations made by local people’s congresses must also be published on the NPC website, as well in the local people’s congresses’ gazettes and on their official websites, and in newspapers circulated within the regions.[31]

The Chinese Government Legal Information Network is designated by the Law to officially publish administrative regulations made by the State Council.[32] The website also publishes administrative rules made by the ministries and commissions under the State Council and by local governments.[33]

B. Online Publication of Court Judgments

Since 2013, courts in China at various levels have been requested by the Supreme People’s Court (SPC) to publish their judgments on an SPC platform, China Judgments Online.[34] According to the SPC, judgments must be posted on the platform within seven business days of taking effect.[35] Courts must redact names of certain people when publishing the judgments, including the names of all minors and their representatives.[36] 

The SPC exempts certain types of cases from being published on the platform, such as those involving state secrets, crimes conducted by minors, divorce, or child custody, and the courts are also allowed to decide that other cases are not appropriate to be published.[37] If a court decides not to publish a judgment online, it must still publish the judgment’s case number, the name of the trial court, the judgment date, and the reasons for non-publication, except where publishing the information may reveal state secrets.[38] 

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Prepared by Laney Zhang
Foreign Law Specialist
April 2019


[1] 2018 Report on Managing Online Rumors Published, 774 Institutions Refuted Rumors on Wechat, People.cn (Jan. 18, 2019), http://society.people.com.cn/n1/2019/0118/c1008-30574893.html (in Chinese), archived at https://perma.cc/8QCK-37ZQ.

[2] Homepage,China Internet Joint Rumor Refuting Platform, http://www.piyao.org.cn/ (last visited Mar. 13, 2019) (in Chinese), archived at https://perma.cc/JN4X-F8UA.

[3] Stella Qiu & Ryan Woo, China Launches Platform to Stamp Out ‘Online Rumors’, Reuters (Aug. 30, 2018), https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-internet/china-launches-platform-to-stamp-out-online-rumors-idUSKCN1LF0HL, archived at https://perma.cc/3976-TPRB.

[4] Maria Repnikova, China’s Lessons for Fighting Fake News, Foreign Policy (Sept. 26, 2018), https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/09/06/chinas-lessons-for-fighting-fake-news/#, archived at https://perma.cc/U2N4-KKQ6.

[5] Id.

[6] Ninth Amendment to the PRC Criminal Law (adopted by the National People’s Congress (NPC) Standing Committee on Aug. 29, 2015, effective Nov. 1, 2015), http://www.npc.gov.cn/npc/xinwen/2015-08/31/content_1945587.htm (in Chinese), archived at https://perma.cc/JZL6-XV2K. English translation available at Westlaw China (by subscription).

[7] Id. art. 32.

[8] PRC Cybersecurity Law (adopted by the NPC Standing Committee on Nov. 7, 2016, effective June 1, 2017), http://www.npc.gov.cn/npc/ xinwen/2016-11/07/content_2001605.htm (in Chinese), archived at https://perma.cc/3HAP-D6MZ.

[9] Id. art. 12 para 2.

[10] Id. art. 70.

[11] Id. art. 24.

[12] Id. art. 61.

[13] State Council, Administrative Measures on Internet Information Services (Sept. 25, 2000, effective on the same day), http://www.gov.cn/gongbao/content/2000/content_60531.htm (in Chinese), archived at https://perma.cc/M6J4-HV7V.

[14] Id. art. 15.

[15] Id. art. 16.

[16] Cyber Administration of China, Provisions on Administration of Internet News Information Services (May 2, 2017, effective June 1, 2017) art. 1, http://www.cac.gov.cn/2017-05/02/c_1120902760.htm (in Chinese), archived at https://perma.cc/Y5VB-XZJV.

[17] Id. art. 5.

[18] Id. art. 6.

[19] Id. art. 22.

[20] Id. art. 15(1).

[21] Id. art. 24.

[22] Id. art. 16(1).

[23] Id. art. 25.

[24] Id. art. 16(2).

[25] Id. art. 13(1).

[26] Id. art. 26.

[27] Law on Legislation (adopted by the NPC on Mar. 15, 2000, rev. Mar. 15, 2015) (Legislation Law), http://www.npc.gov.cn/npc/dbdhhy/12_3/2015-03/18/content_1930713.htm, archived at https://perma.cc/92MR-NRX6. See Laney Zhang, A Guide to Chinese Legal Research: Official Online Publication of Chinese Law, In Custodia Legis (Sept. 5, 2018), https://blogs.loc.gov/law/2018/09/a-guide-to-chinese-legal-research-official-online-publication-of-chinese-law/, archived at https://perma.cc/6B8W-FLE9.

[28] Homepage, The National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China, http://www.npc.gov.cn/ (in Chinese, last visited Mar. 14, 2019), archived at https://perma.cc/B9EU-KBWJ.

[29] Homepage,Ministry of Justice of the People’s Republic of China, Chinese Government Legal Information Network, http://www.chinalaw.gov.cn/ (in Chinese, last visited Mar. 14, 2019), archived at https://perma.cc/9RDG-8MMB.

[30] Legislation Law art. 58.

[31] Id. art. 79

[32] Id. art. 71.        

[33] Id. art. 86.

[34] Homepage,China Judgements Online, http://wenshu.court.gov.cn/Index (in Chinese, last visited Mar. 14, 2019), archived at https://perma.cc/Y9NR-WYC5. See Laney Zhang, China: Rules of Online Publication of Court Judgments Revised, Global Legal Monitor (Feb. 9, 2017), http://www.loc.gov/law/foreign-news/article/china-rules-of-online-publication-of-court-judgments-revised/, archived at https://perma.cc/KPJ3-T3K3.

[35] SPC, Provisions on the Publication of Judgment Documents by the People’s Courts (Aug. 29, 2016) art. 7, http://www.court.gov.cn/zixun-xiangqing-25321.html (in Chinese), archived at https://perma.cc/P8G8-P4ED.

[36] Id. art. 8.

[37] Id. art. 4.

[38] Id. art. 6.

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Last Updated: 06/11/2019