Mainland sites pledge to ban unhealthy information and user-generated material that contradicts social morality and Chinese traditional virtues The mainland is cracking down on 'unhealthy' content uploaded to blogs and other 'Web 2.0' sites as part of efforts to clean up the internet in China and alleviate the concerns of parents worried about how their children are spending time online. China has long censored the internet, with topics such as the 'Three Ts' - Taiwan and Tibetan independence and torture of the Falun Gong - firmly off limits. In addition, government officials in recent months have closed down hundreds of pornography sites. But the latest campaign appears targeted at Web 2.0 sites that rely on user-generated blog postings, photos, and audio and video clips to draw traffic. These services are popular with young people. Last month, 14 Beijing-based internet firms said they would ban any content that 'contradicts social morality and Chinese traditional virtues'. For web portal Tom Online, this meant deleting 40 per cent of user postings and 20 per cent of user photographs, according to spokesman Rico Ngai. Rival Sina.com has also deleted user content. The posts were not pornographic but 'sexually suggestive'. Mr Ngai noted Tom Online's social responsibility and pointed to the joint pledge signed under the Beijing Association of Online Media. 'Weeding out unhealthy information has become a consensus in society, strongly demanded by parents and imminently needed to ensure the healthy development of future adults,' the statement said. In addition to Tom Online and Sina, other signatories include search engines Baidu.com and Zhongsou.com, Yahoo China, Qianlong.com, Sohu.com, 163.com, China.com, Ynet.com and Hexun .com. The concern over teen websites mirrors a similar debate in the United States. There, the focus has been on social networking website MySpace, which recently named a security tsar to oversee child safety measures in response to criticism the site's user profiles left minors vulnerable to sexual predators. Parents in the US had also complained that minors were posting pictures of themselves in scant attire or suggestive poses. Likewise, bare midriffs and bikini shots are not uncommon to the internet in China, where sex bloggers such as Mu Zimei and Liu Mangyan post online intimate details of their lives and draw hundreds of thousands of visitors. Such activity does not go down well in a country where young people have been advised to adhere to the principles of President Hu Jintao's 'eight glories and eight shames', which the 14 Beijing internet companies have also sworn to follow. What makes China different from other markets is the government wields tight control over the internet, empowering officials to act swiftly against what they see as culturally harmful to young people. The Beijing Association of Online Media has 15 executive directors, two of which come from the city's information office. Executives from internet firms outside of Beijing privately worry that companies are being pressured into removing user content. Mr Ngai could not say why one of every five photos posted to Tom Online was considered 'unhealthy content', but the high number would suggest a disconnect between what young people see as appropriate and what their elders in charge of regulating the internet deem acceptable. That there is a generation gap separating internet users and regulators is no surprise to Marc van der Chijs, co-founder of Toodou.com, a Shanghai-based video-sharing site popular with teens. 'The younger people live in a different world than the politicians do. They like to show off more than the older generation,' Mr Van der Chijs said. The big worry for internet firms is that a need to adhere to a conservative social philosophy could inhibit the growth of Web 2.0 services and user-generated content in China. While it remains to be seen how far the government will take its campaign, other targets have included the Super Girl televised singing contest, which has been criticised for promoting the 'concept of instant fame and riches'. 'You can't really define [what is acceptable]. It's a really grey area. What one person finds acceptable another might not,' Mr Van der Chijs said. In typical Web 2.0 fashion, Toodou relies on the input of about 20 volunteer users to ferret out objectionable content submitted by other users. 'They're very happy they can do this. We have to rely on the judgments of our volunteers,' Mr Van der Chijs said. On the financial side, a crackdown on 'unhealthy content' is not expected to hurt Web 2.0 sites, according to an analyst with an American investment bank. This is because few Web 2.0 sites in China, like their counterparts in the west, are making money. 'They're big on traffic but not big on advertising. Traffic doesn't mean you have created a lot of revenue,' he said, adding the younger demographic of Web 2.0 sites made them unattractive to advertisers. Mop.com could be hurt the most by any campaign to protect teens from 'unhealthy content', the analyst said. Executives from Mop, which has described itself as the 'MySpace of China', were unavailable for comment. Most websites accept strict government rules, but operators do not anticipate losing traffic to foreign sites where users can express themselves more freely. 'If we were operating outside of China, we could put a lot more content on the site. Most Chinese users won't be bothered going to foreign English sites,' Mr Van der Chijs said.