Here we go again. Just weeks after Tea Leaf Nation debunked rumors of Kim Jong-Un’s demise at a North Korean embassy in Beijing, we find ourselves fending once more with China’s great Internet Rumor Machine. In what will likely become an ongoing series, we revive our 10-part checklist and apply it to these latest rumors.
As Internet portal Boxun [Chinese] and the English-language (Taiwan-based) Want China Times reported, rumors of a major coup have sizzled on China’s Internet during the last 24 hours. The chatter started with netizens’ noting a major press presence outside of Beijing’s Diaoyutai guesthouse, and has since caught fire. Reports have surfaced of the sound of gunshots, and a prohibition on taxis stopping outside the departure terminal at the Beijing airport. Together, many netizens believe these pieces of evidence suggest something major is in the works.
Of course, (almost) no one can definitely prove or disprove these rumors yet. But as expert Weibo watchers, let us hazard a conclusion: The rumors are false. Why do we think so? Allow us to check this latest rumor against our tried-and-true False Weibo Rumor Checklist:
1. The rumor occurs late on a Friday or Saturday night.
Analysis: Okay, this one doesn’t apply. Get back to work, you netizens!
2. There is an original basis of undeniable fact, but that fact could mean anything. This rumor began when
about 30 black cars amassed outside of the North Korean embassy in Beijing. military police amassed on Chang’An street in Beijing. That could definitely occur because of something sinister. Or, it could occur because important people are coming and going. You know, because it’s an embassy. downtown Beijing.
3. It all starts with a written document posted as a JPEG (this avoids the censors–easy!).
Analysis: In this case, the words “something big happened!” coupled with a discussion of the crowds surrounding Diaoyutai were enough to get the ball rolling.
4. The rumor begins, “According to reliable sources.” Why does the person delivering the information have to write that? Because they aren’t reliable.
Analysis: Some reliable people, including Li Delin, who is on the editorial board of Securities Market Weekly, tweeted about this one.
5. The rumor occurs in the near aftermath of a real crisis.
Wang Lijun’s rumored defection Bo Xilai’s fall was genuinely shocking political theater. This incident set all of China on edge, and got every journalist, not to mention every auntie and “old hundred names” [i.e. commoner], on the lookout for the next crisis.
6. Everyone secretly wants it to be true. As netizens pointed out in this case, the rumored fact echoes netizens’ own desires. Many Chinese are not huge fans of
North Korea’s China’s old-new-school Communist regime , which issues bellicose statements and arms itself while China foots most of the food and energy bill.
Analysis: Destabilization of the Chinese leadership is not something most people really want to see. But many analysts have been predicting the Chinese government’s imminent downfall for years, and some would like eventually to be proven right.
7. The sources are sketchy. More prominent microbloggers with reputations to protect ignore the rumor, make fun of it, or ask for proof. Less prominent microbloggers have less to lose from being wrong, so they tweet away–they just like the attention.
Analysis: Here, well-known microblogger and real-estate mogul Pan Shiyi stuck his neck out to say Weibo was “acting strange tonight” and noted that comments to Le Delin’s tweet had been deleted. But it’s only underscored the reputational risks of jumping on the rumor bandwagon too early. When Pan later tweeted he was waiting for his plane, another well-known microblogger and real-estate mogul Ren Zhiqiang chided, “Did something big happen again?” In response, Pan exhorted Ren to “watch your language,” and Ren then shot back, “Do you also think you’re the government?”
8. The bigger the story, the less–not more–netizens will seek to verify it. It’s so juicy, they just can’t help themselves.
Analysis: An eternal truth, and the reason the Internet is so much fun.
9. In an information vacuum, lies rush in to fill the void. And [almost] no one is more opaque than the
North Korean Chinese government.
10. The sky didn’t fall. If a
young, unstable leader of a highly unstable nuclear country the world’s largest country was killed while visiting his neighbor and greatest ally sacked in the world’s arguably most volatile region, it could lead to widespread chaos, even war. Yet I was still able to watch Jeremy Lin play the Lakers sign an endorsement deal with Volvo and my beer coffee was still cold warm.
Final False Rumor Checklist Score: 7/10.
Conclusion: It’s getting late over there, Chinese netizens. Catch some ZZZ’s.