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Influencer ordered to pay for defamation

China Daily | Updated: 2023-08-16


A social media influencer who posts about show business has been ordered to pay 100,000 yuan ($14,000) in compensation and publicly apologize for tarnishing the reputation of an entertainer after posting defamatory hearsay about him, a Beijing court ruled recently.

Chen Ming, the entertainer and plaintiff, forwarded news reports of the verdict on his Sina Weibo account on Sunday, after the Beijing Internet Court said it was an exemplary case involving civil rights violation in cyberspace.

According to the court, the defendant, surnamed Zhou, published a post on his Weibo account on Nov 30, 2020, claiming that Chen had engaged in academic misconduct while at Wuhan University, and that he had invented stories to make him look as if he spoiled his wife.

The post by Zhou, who as an influencer had nearly 5 million followers at the time, garnered more than 6,000 retweets, 22,000 comments and over 660,000 likes.

Chen, a star of the popular debate show Qipashuo, responded on that day that he would launch lawsuits against those "rumormongering". He said in his suit that such a post had a very severe impact on his reputation, and that the influence has been magnified due to his own status as a public figure. He demanded compensation of 350,000 yuan. During the trial, Chen presented evidence to show that the allegations were false.

Wang Yingwen, who represented Zhou in court, argued that Zhou was only reposting content he had seen on another online platform, adding that he had added question marks and words like "suspected" to indicate that the content was speculative and that he held a neutral view.

The court concluded that as a public figure, Chen is obliged to accept scrutiny from the public, but Zhou's post lacked evidence in authenticity and went "beyond the reasonable scope" of public supervision. Meanwhile, Zhou reposted the article as an influencer and failed to reasonably verify the content wasn't pejorative and defamatory, and guided the topic in a sensational and malicious way to draw internet traffic for profit.

Zhu Ge, a judge from the court, said that Zhou, as an influencer in show business, has a duty of care especially when the content is about the sector.

"Zhou did not perform the duty of care when reposting, so he is at fault," she told state broadcaster China Central Television. "Judging from statistics, the consequence was relatively heavy, so we decided that his actions constitute a violation."

Zhou had appealed the verdict, but the ruling was upheld by a higher court.

Chen said he would donate the compensation to legal charities.