China's netizens have been urged to avoid damaging the credibility of cyberspace after a story that went viral over the Spring Festival holiday turned out to be fabricated.
The story revolved around a 28-year-old woman from a well-off Shanghai background who claimed to have split up with her boyfriend after eating a meal at his family's home in a small village in Jiangxi province.
Her claims that she could not stand the humble food or the family's lowly home, quickly sparked online discussion about relationships between men from the countryside and metropolitan women.
Debate raged until Sunday, when a report on Jxnew.com.cn exposed the story as a lie.
The report quoted an officer from the provincial cyberspace watchdog who said that the post was written by a non-Shanghai mother surnamed Xu.
She had never been to Jiangxi and made the post in anger following a fight with her husband about where they should spend the holidays, the report said.
Li Yuxiao, head of the Internet Management Law Research Center at Beijing University of Posts and Telecommunications, said such behaviour constituted "abuse" of the Internet.
"Although these posts may not be illegal, the posters' behaviour is still irresponsible," Li said.
"Such behaviour causes a lot of damage to the credibility of cyberspace," he said.
Zhu Wei, deputy director of the Communication Law Center at China University of Political Science and Law, said the woman's behaviour was self-promotional but thought few netizens would try to arouse the public's attention in this way.
"The Internet has the capacity for self-purification. Online discussions cleanse such non-news posts and can expose the truth," Zhu said.
Netizens split over wealthy Shanghai girlfriend's rejection of rural family's meal
The story of a young woman from a well-off Shanghai background and her boyfriend from a poor rural family created a huge online discussion about love during the Lunar New Year.
But unlike in many such romantic stories, love, in this case, did not triumph.
The anonymous woman, from comfortable circumstances in China's financial capital, recently agreed to follow her boyfriend to spend the Spring Festival in his hometown - a small village in Jiangxi province.
But after one meal at the family's home, the 28-year-old woman insisted on ending the relationship and returning to her home that same night.
She said she could stand neither the humble food that the family offered, nor their lowly home.
In the pictures the woman posted, the meal was offered in a dimly lit room, with six dishes and a bowl of rice placed on an old, mottled wood table, which some commenters said made the table look dingy and the food unappetizing.
The woman said they took a train, transferred to a bus and then bumped along a country road on a tractor before they finally arrived at the man's home.
"The bumping had already made me very sick. When I saw the dishes, I really wanted to throw up," the woman said in her online posts.
The couple had dated for a year, with the woman's parents firmly in opposition because the man was a poor outsider in Shanghai who had not been able to purchase an apartment in the costly megacity.
"My mother had tried to persuade me to get out of the relationship. I regretted not having followed her suggestions after I arrived there," the woman said in the posts, adding that her father arranged for a car to pick her up that night.
The posts caught netizens' attention and received a large numbers of comments, sparking heated discussions on the common conflicts that arise in relationships between poor men from the countryside and stylish urban women used to the good life.
Some netizens were sympathetic to the woman. A netizen called Sunshine-after-rain said: "It's normal for the woman to flee. She had no obligation to force herself to tolerate or accept the poor situation."
Netizen Daring 90 said: "The dishes are OK compared with what I saw among other similar incidents. Take care."
But some criticised the woman for being impolite and snobbish, with netizen MissTumbler saying the man's family "must have offered you the best" they had, and netizen FinanceQiuer saying that she "should have kept your manners and showed basic respect to the man's family".
A 26-year-old female Internet user from Jiangxi province, where the man is from, posted a long letter to the fleeing Shanghai woman on Saturday, expressing her affection for the province where she was born, brought up and is now living.
"I can understand your fear and anxiety of facing rural life for the first time," the woman said in the letter.
"But in recent years, people in the countryside of Jiangxi are working hard to change their own fate, as well as the fate of their hometown."
"As more young people come back to start their own businesses and careers, the situation of Jiangxi is becoming different from years before," the woman wrote, garnering applause from many netizens.