Firms in uphill battle to stop porn

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 January, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 January, 2004, 12:00am
 

Mainland internet portal companies have increased self-policing efforts against pornography and other sensitive materials since the government cracked down on them six months ago.


But a NetEase.com senior executive admitted that the portals needed to work harder to set up industry-wide standards to safeguard against obscene and violent content.


'The industry should regulate itself,' said Michael Tong, the company's executive director. 'We at NetEase want to work with others to set up standards.'


The industry has been under government scrutiny since last summer, when regulators cracked down on it for linking with independent websites, many of them mainland-based providers of soft porn.


Last July, the three major portals, NetEase, Sohu.com and Sina Corp, cut their links with independent sites.


The sites provide a lot of different content, including pictures of skimpily dressed or nude young women that web-surfers can download for a fee in the form of short messaging services or e-mails.


The three portals have seen their US Nasdaq-traded shares rocket because of rising revenue from such services.


Since severing ties, the portals have intensified efforts to check photographs and written postings uploaded by their users. 'Number one, we can't have nudity,' Mr Tong said. 'Number two, our members can't solicit sexual services. We prohibit these activities.'


In the past year, the companies have employed more staff to work in teams that filter out obscene content around the clock.


Mr Tong admitted, however, that some obscene material was still being posted on its dating service.


'It's very difficult to weed out everything but we try,' he said.


To offset the loss in revenue from previously allowed wireless downloads, the portal companies have been intensifying their efforts to generate new sales.


NetEase has launched several online games in the past two years. Games generated 38 per cent of total revenue in the third quarter of last year, up from 27 per cent in the previous quarter.


Last week in Beijing, the portal launched Fantasy Westward Journey, a game targeting women aged from 15 to 25.


The game focuses on 'educating' young women by placing them in a series of virtual scenarios based on mythological figures from the Tang Dynasty.


To prevent them from becoming too violent or showering each other with obscenities in their virtual worlds, NetEase has employed a team of 100 'game masters', or referees, who work around the clock policing the activities of game participants.


'Virtual worlds require some kind of virtual police,' Mr Tong said. 'Rowdy participants who get too violent or use obscenities are thrown into [virtual] prison.'


He will be working with other internet industry executives in the coming months to set up a national standard to rate online games.


'We hope to set up a standard similar to the movie-rating system in the US. Certain games are suitable for children, while others are not. We need a system to guarantee quality to our customers,' Mr Tong said.


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