China urges police use microblogs to dispel rumors

BEIJING Mon Sep 26, 2011 1:11pm EDT

Policemen take pictures of the unfolding of a giant thangka, a religious silk embroidery or painting unique to Tibet, during the Shoton Festival at Drepung Monastery on the outskirts of Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region August 29, 2011. REUTERS/Jacky Chen

Policemen take pictures of the unfolding of a giant thangka, a religious silk embroidery or painting unique to Tibet, during the Shoton Festival at Drepung Monastery on the outskirts of Lhasa, Tibet Autonomous Region August 29, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Jacky Chen

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BEIJING (Reuters) - More Chinese police should use microblogs to give the public "correct" facts and release authorized information to dispel misunderstandings, the Ministry of Public Security said on Monday, in a new effort to counter critics of the government.

Chinese officials have voiced worries about the feverish growth of microblogs, also known as "tweets", which can be used to spread information and comments unwelcome to the ruling Communist Party's censors.

Vice Minister of Public Security Huang Ming said that police forces should actively use microblogs to ensure the correct information is put across to people.

"All levels of public security organs should fully understand the importance of microblogs for public security," Huang said, according to a statement on the ministry's website (www.mps.gov.cn).

Police forces should set up "new platforms to guide public opinion, further pay attention to hot topics people are talking about on the Internet, and use correct, authoritative, transparent news to answer people's concerns in a timely way, clarify facts and clear up misunderstandings".

Chinese microblogs carry plenty of celebrity gossip and harmless fare. But they also offer forums for lambasting officials and reporting unrest or official abuses, and Beijing is worried about their potential to erode the party's authority and stoke popular discontent, even protest.

Public security bureau have already set up more than 4,000 official microblogs on the popular Sina Weibo service, and around 5,000 police officers have their own microblogs, attracting "millions" of followers, the ministry said.

China blocks popular foreign sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, and uses filters and monitoring to block unwelcome comment on domestic Internet sites.

But a stream of warnings in state media has exposed how nervous Beijing is about the boom in microblogs, and analysts have said stricter regulation could be coming.

Like "tweets", microblogs allow users to issue bursts of opinion -- a maximum of 140 Chinese characters -- that can spread rapidly through chains of followers.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Tim Pearce)

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