China tightens screws on social media

BEIJING: Chinese authorities have ordered a major social media platform to curb “harmful content” more effectively as they intensify oversight of online expression.

The campaign is intended not just to stamp out dissent but to ensure that all media “serves the direction of socialism”.

The continuing crackdown targets not only explicit depictions of sex and violence, but even rap music, crude cartoons, dirty jokes, celebrity gossip and tattoos.

Sina Weibo has failed to comply, Beijing’s Cyberspace Administration said Saturday on its official WeChat social media account, berating the site for letting users post “content of wrong public opinion orientation, obscenity, low taste and ethnic discrimination”.

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The company “has violated the country’s laws and regulations, led online public opinions to wrong direction and left a very bad influence,” it said.

In another case announced Friday, China’s securities watchdog announced it had punished a blogger on WeChat with a 200,000 yuan ($31,000) fine for posting market-moving “misinformation” about meetings between corporations and regulators.

China has some of the world’s tightest controls over web content, protected by what is called “The Great Firewall”. Restrictions on free speech have increased since President Xi Jinping assumed power in 2012.

A controversial cybersecurity law, which took effect last June, has given authorities even more leeway to regulate a wide variety of information.

At the time, the cyberspace administrator told major internet companies to obey the provisions of the new law requiring online news and information services to “serve the direction of socialism and correctly guide public opinion”.

In punishment for Weibo’s failure to toe that line, regulators have demanded a week-long shutdown of the site’s offending features, including one that allows users to pay to ask celebrities questions, as well as a function to search trending topics.

It was far from the first time the social media giant, which is owned by internet behemoth Sina, has been called on the carpet.

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The government has frequently expressed its displeasure with the platform’s content.

The company has tried to counter criticism by banning keywords and hiring thousands of censors to laboriously take down posts that violate the party’s ever stricter dictums.

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