China shuts down Twitter-like accounts amid political scandal

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(CBS News) Chinese micro-blogging service Sina Weibo has deleted several accounts for allegedly spreading "malicious political rumors."

Sina Weibo is a Twitter-like service lets its users broadcast text and photos in real-time. The service has over 300 million users. Twitter has been blocked from China since 2009.

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In the note sent out to users, the site accused the deleted accounts of spreading false information about an unnamed political scandal.

The Wall Street Journal reports Sina Weibo sent this message to users Tuesday: "Recently, criminal elements have used Sina Weibo to create and spread malicious political rumors online for no reason, producing a terrible effect on society."

The scandal everyone has been talking about is over Chinese politician Bo Xilai, who was suspended from China's Politburo on April 10 - a powerful 25-member group that runs the country.

Bo's wife Gu Kailai was recently arrested for the murder of Nick Heywood - a British man who was found dead in a hotel room last November.

Chinese journalists who have been broadcasting information and opinions over the scandal over Sina Weibo were kicked off the site and in some cases arrested.

According to the Journal, senior editor of Chinese magazine Capital Week Li Delin was detained for spreading rumors of a coup in Beijing over Sina Weibo on March 19.

Chinese journalist Yang Haipeng's account was also deleted after a post began spreading on Sina Weibo regarding a connection between Bo's family and the deceased Heywood on March 24.

"Deceased: Guagua's nanny. Nationality: British. Place: Chongqing. Handled by: Wang Lijun. Cause of death: Wang was not allowed to investigate. The body was not preserved and instead directly cremated," said Haipeng's post before it was deleted the following day.

The Journal reports six people were detained in the wake of the Beijing coup rumors. At least 1,000 more people were arrested for "what authorities said were Internet crimes."

At this point, it's unclear if Sina Weibo was prompted by the Chinese government to crack down on the micro-bloggers or if the company acted independently.

China has long censored websites with anti-government content, including social media sites. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are among some of the social media sites that are currently blocked. Google was famously banned in mainland China in March 2010 because the search engine began redirecting its site to Google Hong Kong, which was not censored, as a work-around China's "Great Firewall."

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