Over the past few years, authorities in China have waged a dramatic war on rumors, "fake news" and other spurious information online. Critics warn that the campaign is a tightening of the screws that will directly affect free speech in the country.
However, it appears that the campaign may be more targeted at actual rumors -- as opposed to essentially anti-government sentiment -- than you might expect. A report released Monday by the University of Toronto's Citizen Lab investigated what messages had been deleted from WeChat, the leading messaging app in the country.
The group monitored 36,000 posts on WeChat and found that the censorship was unusual in that while posts relating to political news were often targeted, so were tabloid rumors and other clearly fake news. The study's author, Jason Q. Ng, notes that some of these rumors seem "silly and harmless relative to other kinds of sensitive content."
The report gives examples of some of the posts that were censored, so you can see for yourself what the Chinese government was apparently so worried about. It includes a broad range of information, such as political speculation, tabloid fodder and conspiracy theories.
|Title (Chinese)||Title (English)||Meaning|
|胸罩=凶兆||Bra = curse||Claims bras with pads can cause breast cancer.|
|北京突然宣布重大决定 美日惊呆了（此文章昨天转发超过6万.，证明中国人很团结）||Beijing made a decision which shocked Washington (post has been reposted more than 60,000 times during one day, China is united)||Claims that Beijing is targeting more than 1,000 missiles at the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands and Japan.|
|【头条】告诉你政府和央媒低调处理海南”威马逊”风灾的原因||Why the government and media treated the Hainan typhoon so quietly||Suggests that news of the 2013 Hainan Typhoon was kept quiet because the Chinese government was afraid of damaging Hainan’s image by showing flaws in its infrastructure.|
|湖南发现100多人轮回转世 22||In Hunan, more than 100 reincarnated people have been found||Gives examples of several people who claim to be reincarnated and say they can remember their past lives.|
|癌症晚期完全可以治愈，放到朋友圈，会感激你一辈子||Late stage cancer can be healed, share this to your moments and your friends will be grateful||Suggests that cancer can be healed by ignoring Western medicine and using traditional Chinese medicine.|
|“后周时代”的九大政治猜想||Nine political guesses at “post-Zhou era”||Speculates on what will happen in China now that Zhou Yongkang has fallen from grace.|
|北京智囊透露习近平令人耳目一新的治国方略||Beijing thinktank leaks Xi’s new policy to manage the country||Speculates on Xi Jinping's changing policies.|
|邓家成了中国首富，会去帮助穷人共同富裕吗？||Will Deng’s family help the poor if they become the richest people in China?||Despite the title, this is an advertisement of a medicine used to cure cervical spondylopathy, arthritis, etc.|
|遗产税终于来了，有80万资产必看！拼命赚钱没用了！||Inheritance tax is coming! Those with over 800,000 in cash must read. Pushing to earn more money is useless.||Publicizes a supposed inheritance tax that will be tested in Shenzhen.|
|【科技新闻】美国正式宣布转基因有毒！||Tech news: The US has officially announced genetically modified products are toxic||Claims GM foods are toxic and explains how to spot them.|
|[转] 国人该醒醒了！||[Share] It’s time to wake up!||Claims brands such as Amway and Mary Kay are slowly poisoning people in China.|
|马云的儿子去世了！金钱能换来幸福吗？||Jack Ma’s son died! Can money buy happiness?||Claims that Chinese billionaire Jack Ma’s son passed away in 2014.|
|著名演员姜文去世||Famous actor Jiang Wen passed away||Claims that Chinese actor and director Jiang Wen died from myocardial infarction.|
|又一位美女倒下了！！！||Another beauty falls ill!!!||Claims that Hong Kong actress Rosamund Kwan has been diagnosed with cerebral cancer.|
|1985年：导致胡耀邦下台的港媒记者访谈事件||1985: the Hong Kong reporter interview incident that forced Hu Yaobang out of office||Claims that it was an interview with a Hong Kong reporter in 1985 that lead former party chairman Hu Yaobang to be ousted from the party.|
|又一位美女大明星倒下了，带给我们怎样的反省？||Another female star falls, accompanied by her rich boyfriend||Claims that Zhilin Guan, a famous actress from Hong Kong, has brain cancer as a result of pollution.|
|又一个独裁政权倒台||Another dictatorship falls||Claims that North Korea is about to fall and that Kim Jong Un may be under house arrest.|
|【广州告急】广州黑人为所欲为，已经刻不容缓…||Black people in Guangzhou do whatever they want, it’s urgent!||Claims that black immigrants in Guangzhou are committing crimes and marrying Chinese women.|
|令.计划为何在央视养情人？||Why does Ling Jihua have a lover from CCTV?||Suggests an improper relationship between a Chinese politician and a journalist.|
|最新权威消息：金正恩已经抵达中国！||Newest credible news: Kim Jong-un has arrived in China||Suggests the North Korean leader had a stroke and has been in China for treatment.|
|农夫山泉停产，这水我再也不敢喝了！我要买水机！！||Nongfu Spring shut down its production||Suggests that China has a severe water problem that will cause more people to get cancer in near future.|
|女孩才五岁啊，就肝癌晚期！医生忠告9种毒零食，千万别吃！！||Five year old girl in the last stage of liver cancer! Doctors advise you not to eat these nine kinds of snacks!||Says that children are getting liver cancer because they are eating items such as ramen noodles, sausage, preserved fruit, jelly, ice cream, cookies, milk tea, gum and chips.|
|警告！NASA证实地球将于12月16日起进入连续六天的黑夜！||Warning! NASA confirms Earth will enter darkness for 6 days starting Dec. 16||Claims that NASA has issued a dramatic warning that the world will be dark for several days.|
|中科院宣布：汽车水燃料将全面替代汽油 ，成本接近于零 ！||Chinese Academy of Sciences announces: water fuel will replace gasoline entirely for cars, the cost is almost nothing!||Suggests that a water-based fuel has been created and is worth $1 trillion.|
|一滴水从高处落下来，会不会砸死人？||Would a drop of water falling from high above kill a person?||Suggests water falling from different heights can kill people.|
|周 小平同志，请不要辜负这个时代||Xiaoping Zhou, do not let this era down||A number of comments that criticize the patriotic Chinese essayist.|
|事态严重了！昨晚就发生在广州！请紧急通知家人 ..||The situation is serious! It happened last night in Guangzhou, please tell your family.||Claims KFC and McDonald's use hormones to raise chicken with multiple legs and wings to have more chicken to sell.|
|未来可能无工可打，无商可务！||There might be no jobs and no business in the future!||Suggests intelligent machines will soon take all jobs from humans.|
|易中天颠覆中国历史观||Yi Zhongtian overturns Chinese people’s historic views||Challenges historical ideas about China (such as Chinese history being 5,000 years old) purportedly using the words of historian Yi Zhongtian.|
|[转] 国之不幸，在于有一个出卖国家利益的汉奸集团||Our misfortune: there is traitorous bloc selling out the country’s interests||Lists Chinese banks and insurance companies and the amount of money they have transferred abroad/used to buy foreign bonds.|
In his report, Ng notes that even the stupidest rumors may have a political component to them, because they are often spread by Chinese readers dissatisfied or distrustful of the official narratives. "Online rumors have much greater power than the mere contents of the message," he writes.
WeChat, which is owned by the Chinese tech giant Tencent, is well known for quickly spreading rumors among Chinese netizens. “Why is the level of trust in information on WeChat so high? Because information spread on WeChat comes from family and friends, and not strangers,” Kuang Wenbo, a professor at Renmin University’s School of Journalism and Communication, said a news briefing last month, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The report also details how WeChat has a list of sensitive terms that cannot be published and, therefore, do not feature in censored or uncensored posts. These words often related to touchy political subjects, such as 六四 (June 4) and 太子党 (princeling).
More on WorldViews