A detained Chinese blogger has appeared on national TV admitting reposting unsubstantiated information and spreading rumors online, in a move reported to be part of a deal with local authorities to broker his release.
Speaking to national broadcaster CCTV and state-run Xinhua News Agency, Chinese-born American Charles Xue acknowledged he flaunted his online stature and had felt "like an online king" responsible for state affairs.
Known online as Xue Manxi and one of the country's most recognized online commentators, Xue has over 12 million followers on microblogging service Sina Weibo. He often made controversial remarks on social and political issues, and was regarded as the country's "online crusader for justice". His Weibo account was one of the first "big Vs" to amass 10 million fans. Placed at the end of the blogger's name, a "V" icon is given to Weibo accounts whose profiles have been verified as authentic.
Shown speaking to the police from a Beijing detention center, he said he had let his growing online influence fuel his ego and admitted to misleading online users on several occasions. The blogger had been detained since late-August for allegedly soliciting prostitutes.
"I once felt like an emperor reviewing documents when replying or forwarding online posts. I got so carried away that my vanity ballooned," Xue said, according to a report Monday by the South China Morning Post, which cited state-run Xinhua News Agency. "I overlooked the social responsibility of being a 'big V' and brought about an undesirable outcome [in China]."
According to China Daily, the blogger said he posted 85,000 entries via his Weibo account including information that were later shown to be untrue. He also admitted to posting advertisements in return for money.
Xue said he behaved "irresponsibly" by reposting unsubstantiated weibo posts. "The Internet is a virtual reality, but it needs order. A mature cyberspace needs law to keep it in check," he said, offering to appear handcuffed on TV and be part of the government's campaign to crack down on people who spread online rumors.
In the broadcast statement to police, Xue said he was willing to cooperate and "work together", as he hoped to "get out sooner" if he "facilitated the propaganda work".
According to Xinhua, the police are now investigating reports from online users that some of the blogger's activities on the Internet were criminal. Xue is a prominent venture capitalist and a large investor in online car website Autohome, which is majority-owned by Australian telco Telstra.
China's Supreme People's Court last week issued a new judicial interpretation stating online users who shared false information deemed defamatory, or that could affect national interest, faced up to three years in prison if their posts garnered 5,000 views or were forwarded 500 times.
The Chinese government has been making several arrests of microbloggers and filing charges against Web portals, as part of increased efforts to clamp down on online rumors. Local experts have urged for more clarity and details of cases being investigated to address public doubt and improve police credibility over the arrests.