Chinese regulators’ social media probe causing fresh concern

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China’s top social-media marketing platforms WeChat and Weibo, and search engine Baidu, are being investigated by the Chinese government for allegedly spreading content related to “terrorism, fake rumors and pornography”, which may have violated the country’s cybersecurity law.

According to a public statement released on the official website of the Cyberspace Administration of China on August 11, that government organ has filed an official case against these three platforms and is conducting a formal investigation.

Setting off the investigation were reports and complaints by Chinese online users who claim there was a lot of illegal content circulating on WeChat, Weibo and the public forum on Baidu (or Tieba, as it is known in Mandarin).

“This type of content does harm to China’s national security, public safety and social order,” the Cyberspace Administration wrote. “Three online platforms are suspected of violating China’s Cybersecurity Law as they have not fulfilled their duties of regulating the forbidden information.”

This is the first time that the country’s top Internet regulator has launched a formal investigation into major social-media platforms since the new Cybersecurity Law went into force in May. The issue represents a culmination of a series of Internet crackdowns engineered by Chinese government officials over the past several months, with the aim of tightening Beijing’s grip over the flow of online information.

In early June, Internet regulators shut down 60 social-media accounts, including the Hearst-owned fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar, which  has a large following and social influence on Weibo and WeChat. Regulators claimed that those publications were spreading celebrity news and gossip, undermining socialist values. The crackdown then  spread to the booming live-streaming industry, which has become the core business for companies like Weibo.

Many Western publications have said the crackdown is partially owed to the upcoming 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. Occurring every five years, the Congress is one of the most important events for the CPC and marks a significant change in its top leadership. President Xi Jinping is about to complete his five-year term and expects to renew it.

Upon the official announcement, WeChat, Weibo and Baidu all immediately released statements to indicate their willingness and determination to cooperate closely with the government to solve these issues on their platforms.

The oversight of online media content should alert international luxury brands, which now rely heavily on these social-media apps to operate their businesses in China.

This article was originally published on Jing Daily.

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