By Bernard Orr and Eduardo Baptista

(Reuters) – China has intensified efforts to clean up the internet from false news and rumours, closing more than 100,000 online accounts over the past month that misrepresented news anchors and media agencies, its cyberspace regulator said.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) launched a special campaign to clean up online information, focusing on social media accounts that disseminate “fake news” and impersonate state-controlled media.

The regulator said it had wiped 107,000 accounts of counterfeit news units and news anchors and 835,000 pieces of fake news information since April 6.

The cleanup comes as China and countries across the globe grapple with an onslaught of fake news coverage online, with many implementing laws to punish culprits.

News dissemination on Chinese social media, however, is already heavily controlled, with platforms like the Twitter-like Weibo favoring topic hashtags produced by state media, while censoring hashtags on issues or incidents considered sensitive by Beijing, even if they go viral.

The CAC said its review found accounts that had disguised themselves as authoritative news media by falsifying news studio scenes and imitating professional news presenters, using artificial intelligence (AI) to create anchors to mislead the public.

Fake news identified as covering hot topics such as social incidents and international current affairs, according to a statement the CAC posted on Monday on its website.

“(The CAC) will guide online platforms … to safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of the majority of internet users to obtain authoritative and real news,” the regulator said, adding it encouraged users to provide leads on counterfeit news and anchors.

China’s government has regularly ordered sweeping measures to scrub the internet of material and language that deems inappropriate, offensive and a threat to the public and businesses.

Recently, the CAC vowed to crack down on malicious online comments that damage the reputation of businesses and entrepreneurs.

Nascent generative AI technology like ChatGPT has introduced another layer of caution. China recently arrested a man in Gansu province for allegedly using ChatGPT to generate a fake story about a train crash.

(Reporting by Bernard Orr; additional reporting by Ethan Wang; Editing by Jamie Freed)

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