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Most Chinese ‘fake news’ stories involve food safety

By RJ Whitehead

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock
© iStock

Related tags Food safety China

Most fake news stories in China concern food safety, according to a online verification team set up by Tencent.

The local technology giant last week revealed the 10 most prevalent online rumours on Chinese web sites since last April.

Eight related to the safety of food and supplements, including a video that went viral across the world that showed seaweed containing lasting on sale in China.

The file was proved false by the Centre for Food Safety Risk Assessment in Beijing, yet it still resulted in nearly RMB100m in losses (US$14.7m) to the seaweed industry in southeastern Fujian province.

"Netizens are easily attracted by health information online and like to forward it to friends or family members​," said Wang Yang, who led the Tencent verification exercise.

The team cross-referenced more than 2,000 fake news stories shared by some 2.2m users of Tencent’s WeChat social platform, and found that around 45% related to health and 16% to food safety.

"Many netizens who forwarded such fake health information are over 60 years old and not well-educated​," Wang added.

With more than 800m users on its platform, and influenced by Chinese official internet censorship policies, WeChat is one of the world’s biggest blockers of suspected online rumours.

According to a 2015 study by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the app blocks as many as 2.1m such rumours a day, though this figure also includes politically sensitive content.

China’s cybersecurity authorities now work in partnership with internet companies to identify rumourmongers, and operate a system of punishments that include long jail terms for people found to have maliciously spread rumours viewed by more than 5,000 internet users.

Another widespread claim, that plastic rice made in China had been flooding Western markets, remains unproven by verification web site, though the practice is widespread in China.

More from China…

Authorities ‘fully alert’ to wanghong​ food risks

Shanghai’s food watchdog is clamping down on the sale of wanghong​—or food endorsed by high-profile bloggers and celebrities on the internet. 

The term translates as "online celebrity​" and extends to food and brands that have been made popular by online champions who are often paid for their reviews. This, food authorities believe, has led to an increase in unsafe products and practices.

We must be fully alert to wanghong food​,” said Yan Zuqiang, director of the Shanghai Food and Drug Administration. “This is because their very popularity means if food safety problems are found, the problem will be worsened​.” 

More than 6,000 officials in 16 districts have been dispatched over the last month to inspect some 2,000 food and beverage stores, many of which sell wanghong​ foods. 

Around 300 cases were being investigated for offences found in the inspection, Yan said. 

The city has witnessed string of scandals involving wanghong food, according to Shanghai Daily​. Among the most notable, the Farine bakery franchise in the city was shut down over allegations of using expired flour earlier this year. 

The case followed the shuttering of Michelin-starred Taian Table, another wanghong ​favourite, for operating without licences last year. Instances like these had prompted his teams to enhance supervision, said Yan. 

The administration had also inspected 1,154 home-made food restaurants recently, and closed 672 for operating without a license, Yan added. 

Elsewhere in Shanghai, a recent survey by the the city’s Statistics Bureau has found that over 83% of residents were satisfied with food safety last year, up 15.6 percentage points from 2015.

Over 80% of those surveyed said they appreciated efforts by local authorities to increase food safety, and reported higher expectations for their activities in 2017.

Officials said they are now planning increased outreach by organising community lectures and food safety awareness seminars. They will also work with social media platforms, including the ubiquitous WeChat, to release new food safety information to the public.

Related topics Policy Food safety China East Asia

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