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China technology

Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece gets hi-tech digital makeover with help from Baidu

Official China media are playing catch-up to avoid being left behind by the social media technologies used by the country’s new internet titans

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2018, 7:03pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 June, 2018, 11:13pm

People’s Daily is seeking help from one of China’s artificial intelligence (AI) national champions to help ensure the ruling Communist Party’s mouthpiece remains relevant and top-of-mind in an era when user-generated videos and AI-driven news aggregation are becoming increasingly popular.

Baidu, China’s dominant search engine operator, will provide People’s Daily with an array of new technologies, such as AI-powered algorithms, to help the newspaper “explore new ways of building an online content ecosystem”, according to a release from the Beijing-based company’s official WeChat account.

People’s Daily launched its first news aggregator product officially on Monday, and as part of a strategic agreement with Baidu, the two will work on developing algorithms that can push the “right news content” to the newspaper’s core readers.

Powerful news apps, such as Jinri Toutiao run by Beijing ByteDance Technology and Tencent-backed Qutoutiao, have landed hundreds of millions of users in China by feeding them content based on their individual preferences, despite increased concern in recent months over data privacy and a crackdown by the Chinese government on content it deems vulgar or harmful to minors.

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The AI-powered content model poses new challenges to China’s Communist Party, which under President Xi Jinping has pushed hard to ensure the public receives more messages from official propaganda outlets.

“In future, People’s Daily will gain more strength, using mainstream values to relieve the anxiety caused by traffic and algorithms, using social responsibility to regulate the content business … we’ll keep growing the positive energy online,” Lu Xinning, deputy editor-in-chief of People’s Daily, said in the release.

As many as 2,000 mainstream media, government organisations, experienced writers as well as key opinion leaders have been invited to publish their content on Renminhao, the news aggregator product launched by People’s Daily. Apart from tapping into Baidu’s technology, content from Renminhao and People’s Daily will also be published on Baidu’s own news platform Baijiahao, leveraging the latter’s huge online traffic to reach more readers.

Social content has exploded in China in recent years as the country shifts its economic growth model from being investment-driven to consumption-driven. Meanwhile, official China media have had to play catch-up to avoid being left behind by the social media technologies being developed by the country’s new internet titans.

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In February, the official state news agency Xinhua also signed a strategic partnership with Baidu to leverage the latter’s skills in AI, search and content distribution to bring more “positive energy news” to the public.

Since its founding in 1948, People’s Daily has been under the direct control of the Party's top leadership. It provides direct information on policies and viewpoints of the Chinese Communist Party, making it the most authoritative paper on this subject in China.

Its flagship app Renmin Ribao, the Chinese name for People’s Daily, has been downloaded more than 240 million times since its launch in June 2014. Meanwhile Jinri Toutiao, launched in 2012, has a daily active user of more than 120 million.