Chinese firms to increase censorship of online content

Internet users in China
Image caption China has been keeping a tight vigil on online content as internet usage gains popularity in the country

Chinese firms have agreed to increase their censorship of internet content as authorities seeks greater control over the medium.

The heads of 39 companies including Baidu and Alibaba agreed to "curb rumours" and the spreading of "harmful information", official media reported.

Chinese authorities has often been accused of censoring online material to maintain control over its population.

China is the world's biggest internet market.

The move comes just weeks after Communist Party leaders agreed a list of "cultural development guidelines" which included increased controls over social media and penalties for those spreading "harmful information".

Increased scrutiny

The decision was agreed upon after a three-day session hosted by the government and attended by heads of some of the biggest internet and technology companies in China.

The meeting was presided over by Wang Chen, director of the State Council Information Office, the government's propaganda and information arm.

After the session, internet companies agreed to "conscientiously safeguard the broadcasting of positive messages online," Xinhua news agency reported.

China has more than 500 million internet users and authorities have been concerned about the spread of information they deem unsuitable.

Last month a university student was detained after being accused of posting a fake news story about a man killing eight village chiefs in the south-western province of Yunnan.

A Shanghai resident was held in police custody for 15 days after accusations he had posted a falsified income tax document online.

Miao Wei, minister of Industry and Information Technology, called upon internet companies to strengthen their research and development to ensure better censorship of content.

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