China’s cyber police directs news sites, app developers to promote ‘positive energy’ online
- The move is part of the regulator’s recent initiatives to rid the domestic internet of ‘vulgar and lowbrow content’
China’s powerful internet regulator has called on operators of news sites and app developers to focus on producing high-quality, short video content that can help spread “positive energy” online, underscoring Beijing’s tightened grip on disseminated information in the world’s second largest economy.
The Cyberspace Administration of China gave that directive in a meeting with various state media as well as operators of websites and major short-video platforms, who were asked to step up efforts to improve the “attractiveness, appeal and influence” of their content as part of recent initiatives to rid the domestic internet of “vulgar and lowbrow content”, according to a post published on the agency’s website on Wednesday.
It did not identify those who attended that meeting held last week.
The expression “positive energy”, or zheng neng liang, became a grass roots catchphrase last year on popular microblogging site Sina Weibo. The phrase is also used to denote an optimistic attitude, an inspiring manner and a healthy lifestyle.
The latest move to tighten control on short video apps, which boast about 594 million users in China, has come amid the internet watchdog’s ongoing clean-up of domestic online content, which has seen it erase more than 7 million items on the web since January 3 and terminate more than 9,300 smartphone apps that were deemed “harmful and damaging to the internet ecosystem”, according to a notice it sent to media last week.
The agency has also shut down about 9,800 social media accounts on platforms such as Sina Weibo, search engine Baidu, ByteDance-owned news aggregator Jinri Toutiao and Tencent Holdings’ WeChat.
Technology and social media companies around the world have been caught up in the battle to combat misinformation, as fake news can easily reach billions of people instantly. WeChat, China’s most popular messaging and social media app with more than one billion users, partnered with 774 third-party organisations – including the country’s police as well as food and drug authority – to produce 3,994 articles debunking rumours in 2018, according to a report released by Tencent last week. The articles were read more than 1 billion times, reaching 295 million users.
“Chinese authorities have moved to regulate short video platforms because the format has become ubiquitous,” said Brock Silvers, managing director at private equity firm Kaiyuan Capital. “The same growth characteristics that make these platforms interesting to investors also make them interesting to regulators.”
Earlier this month, the China Netcasting Services Association, one of the largest internet associations in the country, released two sets of management rules for the short video industry to give clearer guidance for its major players, including Tencent as well as Douyin and Kuaishou owner ByteDance, on what content needs to be censored and what does not.
The first rule states that all video content – including the title, introduction and viewer comments – need to be reviewed before broadcast. In addition, each company involved in the short video business must set up a content-reviewing team with a strong political sense.
“After an adjustment period, new restrictions shouldn’t have an outsize impact, as much of the activity is innocuous and will continue unabated,” said Silvers of Kaiyuan Capital. “But 2019 also seems likely to be a year of financial volatility, and short video platforms are now expected to be self-policing. Should a Kuaishou or Douyin fail in this regard, the market should expect significant penalties.”
In a separate set of rules, the government-backed association lists a total of 100 categories of banned content on short video apps, ranging from separatism to sex to slandering, which are designed to provide “practical” censorship standards for frontline content modifiers.
Mark Natkin, managing director at Marbridge Consulting, said the situation was different years ago when most of China’s leading media enterprises were state-owned, which made it “easier for authorities to control the message being piped out to the masses”.
“Now, the top companies in hot sectors like live-streaming and short video are all private enterprises, with a key objective of maximising profits,” Natkin said. “The authorities are making further efforts to hammer home the new directives, especially as we head into the Lunar New Year holiday, which is always a time to clean house.”