hackingbear writes "NPR.org reported that Harvard sociologist Gary King has just completed two studies that peer into the Chinese censorship machine — including a field experiment within China that was conducted with extraordinary secrecy. Together, the studies refute popular intuitions about what Chinese censors are after. He found that the censors actually permit "vitriolic criticism" of China's leaders and governmental policies but the censors crack down heavily on any move to get people physically mobilized to act on such criticism. In an example, a Chinese mother protesting a local official leading sympathetic outrage on social media sites, but the action was almost entirely online — and that flurry of posts went uncensored. By contrast, after the Japanese earthquake, there was a run on salt in China, King says, because people believed — wrongly — that eating salt could protect them against disorders linked to radiation. People physically mobilized around the issue, and media posts that cataloged these activities were quickly censored, King said, because the online commentary corresponded to a physical, public presence. In a related development, China's top court issued a ruling on Monday to threaten a 3-year sentence for people posting online rumors viewed by 5,000 internet users or reposted more than 500 times. Though, in the same ruling, the court also clarified that a person reposting false rumor should not be punished (in Chinese) if he or she does not clearly know the information is false, even if real harm is done. That's considered a progress in protecting speech. As the Internet has grown into an easily accessible platform for the Chinese public, an increase in crimes such as defamation and blackmail has occurred online over the past few years, the ruling said. However, the top court's spokesman, Sun Jungong, stressed that Internet users are still encouraged to expose corruption and other violations despite the new rules, adding that as long as web users are not fabricating information to slander others, they will not face criminal charges."