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NE exodus: China says unchecked sites cause such incidents


Beijing, Aug 23: Citing China's travails with mushrooming social media, a state-run newspaper here has said the panic among people from India's north-east caused by rumours emanating from foreign networking sites showed how unchecked websites could foment social instability.

Obliquely defending curbs like banning Twitter and Facebook by China, an editorial in the Global Times said the exodus of northeastern people from some cities in India was the result of rumours created by "unchecked websites".

"The scene is familiar to Chinese. What happened in India can help us understand more objectively whether the Internet can foment social instability and how it does so," it said.

"The exodus was a result of public panic that was easily ignited by rumours. It takes more than working with social networking websites to appease agitated public and prevent this from happening again," it said.

But New Delhi's worries that the Internet promoted the rumours did not come out of nowhere, the editorial said. "As the inventor of social networking sites, the US has experience in regulating them. But these websites have caused disturbances in other countries."

"The unrest in the UK last summer exposed the side effects of these networking sites, prompting the government to ponder blocking Internet information flow in times of emergency, a decision that led to an outcry," it said.

It, however, did not mention India's assertion that most messages with morphed pictures that created panic among people from northeast originated from Pakistan, a close China ally.

"Social networking sites were also thought to have played a role in the Arab Spring. A revolution is unlikely to happen in India, which is regarded as the world's largest democratic country," the editorial said.

"But the recent disturbance in Assam showed that unrest stirred by rumours is unrelated to a country's political system. The Indian political system can withstand great uncertainty, but its public sentiment is very fragile when facing an emergency," it said.

China's situation is relatively good, it said. "It is hard to imagine rumours causing an exodus. The government's reaction and public's ability to discern false information are much better," the editorial said.

As the new social media spread phenomenally in the last few years emerging as a major threat to tightly-controlled official media, China invented firewalls to control the "unwanted" content.

Despite the controls, early this year, China witnessed widespread rumours of a military coup with pictures of tanks rolling at the Tiananmen Square. The pictures were later discovered as fake, taken from a military parade in the past.

"It is difficult to blame any single factor for the exodus in India. Now the problem needs to be fixed. It is difficult to ask India to make big changes immediately, compared to the adjustments made by social networking sites," it said. "These sites should be more active in dealing with local realities."


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