China’s Most Censored Social Media Giant Penalized For Not Censoring Enough

But in the eyes of the Chinese Communist Party, it’s not enough of censorship – and it should be paid for, literally.

It was the first time Weibo was punished so severely by the government. In the first 11 months of this year, the social media giant was fined 44 times for violations that totaled $2.2 million in damages, according to the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), an government is controlled by the party.

In a statement, Weibo said it “sincerely accepts criticism” from the regulator and has set up a working group to respond to the penalty.

Chinese social media giant Weibo fined by regulator for publishing illegal information

The latest penalty against Weibo comes just two weeks after Douban, a popular site for movie, book and music reviews, was fined $236,000 for the same reason – adding $1.4 million. la fines it has accrued between this year and November for explicit content violations.

Chinese internet companies have long suffered from government crackdown, with their executives regularly being summoned by the CAC for “criticism and rectification.” But rarely do government regulators openly encourage platforms to do the censorship work, analysts said.

“The first step in the moderation process is that you can’t talk about censorship. You’re not allowed to reveal it unless asked to [by the government]”, said Eric Liu, an analyst at China Digital Times, a US-based news website that tracks censorship in China.

In announcing the penalties for Weibo and Douban, Liu said the Communist Party was deliberately “bringing the matter to the surface” – signaling that such harsh punishment could become a regular phenomenon.

In addition to government censors, Chinese internet companies also hire dedicated moderators to police their own platforms, removing content deemed illegal or harmful by the party – including from pornography, violence and deceptive content to criticism of the government and other information that the party considers “politically sensitive” or “morally decadent”, such as LGBTQ content.

Liu, an analyst, previously worked as a content moderator at Weibo. He and his colleagues received more than 800 censorship orders during their time at the company from 2011 to 2013. But for now, he said, orders from internet regulators are being issued in secret. more discreetly through more secure channels, making it much harder for employees to leak. surname.

“Now, it’s censorship by censorship. Moderators are being watched as well,” he said.

Under President Xi Jinping, the party has tightened control the internet, considering it vulnerable to the West. Over a decade ago, Weibo hosted lively public debates on various social issues, and liberal public intellectuals were able to attract large followings.

China's Weibo suspends 21 K-pop fan accounts for & # 39;  unreasonable star-chasing behavior & # 39;

But that has changed under Mr. Xi. Today, most free voices have been silenced. Topics such as feminism, the LGBTQ movement and environmental advocacy are increasingly suspected of being of Western influence, with censors struggling to update an ever-expanding list of “words” sensitive” or prohibited terms.

When Liu worked at Weibo, the company employed about 200 content moderators, he said. Liu expects the number to double, as the platform now has more than half a billion monthly active users.

“As network traffic increases, so does censorship pressure. In the Great Firewall, people are facing more and more censorship – it’s like inflation,” he said. , referring to the country’s complex internet censorship system.

“Censorship is expanding everywhere, which means companies need to hire more people.” And that can become a huge financial burden, especially for smaller companies, Liu added.

Sarah Cook, director of China studies at the US nonprofit Freedom House, said the latest fine is part of an ongoing campaign by the Communist Party to “pressure companies to technology more tightly controls the content on their platforms.”

“It’s a near-impossible task for platforms, with user sizes and red lines constantly changing, but these kinds of recurring fines and ‘rectification’ efforts make them always try and encourage them to exercise Communist Party censorship.”

While the internet regulator did not specify what content prompted the penalties for Weibo and Douban, analysts believe they may be related to the #MeToo scandal surrounding Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai. .

Peng, 35, publicly accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault on Weibo on November 2. Her post was deleted in less than 30 minutes and her Weibo account was hacked. Search blocked, but screenshots of her posts went viral on social media and in private group chats before they were censored. And despite the best efforts of the moderators to remove all discussion and even the most obscure references to her allegations on the internet, allusions and discussions Covert commentary still emerges from time to time – including on Weibo and Douban.

“It seems that this time Weibo is punished for the Peng Shuai scandal, which is the biggest censorship campaign of the year,” Liu said. But the Chinese authorities would never admit the censorship that took place on Peng in the first place, he added.

“We all know some posts have been censored, but no one dares to ask why. Even discussing which posts have been censored has become an extremely scary and provocative act. encourage.”


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