Restaurant operator KFC said Monday it filed a lawsuit against three companies in China whose social media accounts spread false claims about its food, including that its chickens have eight legs.

The case filed by China's biggest restaurant operator comes as the government intensifies a campaign to clean up rumors on social media. Internet marketers have been convicted of trying to manipulate online sentiment on behalf of clients by posting false information about competitors or deleting critical posts.

In an announcement posted on its Chinese website, KFC said one of the best-known fake rumors was that chickens used by the company are genetically modified and have six wings and eight legs.

KFC is demanding $242,000 and an apology from each of three companies that operated accounts on the popular mobile phone app WeChat. It is also seeking an immediate stop to their infringements. Shanghai Xuhui District People's Court has accepted the case, according to an information officer who would only give her surname, Wu.

KFC's China CEO Qu Cuirong said in a statement that it was hard for companies to protect their brands against rumors because of the difficulties in collecting evidence. "But the stepped-up efforts by the government in recent years to purify the online environment, as well as some judicial interpretations, have offered us confidence and weapons," she said.

The companies being sued are Shanxi Weilukuang Technology Co., Taiyuan Zero Point Technology Co., and Yingchenanzhi Success and Culture Communication in the city of Shenzhen. Calls to numbers listed for the companies either rang unanswered or were not valid.

Authorities launched a renewed campaign two years ago to clean up what they called online rumors, negativity and unruliness. Critics say the campaign was largely aimed at suppressing criticism of the ruling Communist Party. Commentaries in state media have argued that a cleanup was needed.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

KFC has more than 4,600 restaurants in China.