It’s been a disconcerting week for China-watchers. From the increased censorship on Chinese Internet due to the passing of Nobel Prize Laureate Liu Xiaobo, the blocking of Whatsapp’s image/audio/video functions to a more general and large-scale crackdown on VPNs (see also a notice allegedly handed down by the Ministry of Security translated by China Law Translate), Chinese Internet users are faced with an even more strictly controlled “intranet.”
Many attribute this round of Internet control to the upcoming 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China 中共十九大 — a pattern we’ve seen over the past few years that censorship on Chinese Internet is increased around political or sensitive events. Some say it is the aftermath of the Liu Xiaobo event along with the Guo Wengui saga. Guo is an exiled Chinese tycoon residing in New York city, who, for the past few weeks, have been very active on Twitter, YouTube and other websites banned in China, exposing alleged corruptions and skulduggery of top-ranking CCP members including the top anti-corruption head Wang Qishan. Others are more pessimistic, remarking that the clampdown on Internet will be a long-term trend rather than a temporary measure.
The problem is and has always been the opaqueness of China’s political system. Almost all its policies and decisions are made in a black box. Everything becomes a kind of speculation and at best, an “educated guess.” I have a hard time listing all the news related to information control this week because there are just too many. But below are some highlights anyway.
Individual Weibo users with over 30K followers must register with government, says Xi’an cyber-regulators
Xi’an municipal cyberspace office is carrying out registration work of websites, Weibo accounts and WeChat public accounts based in the city or are operated by Xi’an residents. Individual Weibo users with over 30,000 followers, who are Xi’an residents or whose identification documents are based in Xi’an, must report to and register with Xi’an government. For enterprise users, the threshold is 50,000. WeChat public accounts are also the target. As long as the registrant, operator, or main user of a WeChat public account is based in Xi’an, h/she is subject to the latest regulation.
AcFun, Bilibili takes down undesired content, vows to promote content with “positive energy”
In the beginning of July, foreign movies and TV shows were abruptly taken down from AcFun and Bilibili, two of China’s most popular video-sharing websites, in what appeared to be part of an intensifying content control by China’s Internet regulators.
Some were quick to defend the crackdown, saying that it’s a measure to “protect intellectual property”. It could very well be the case — until both companies released statements saying that it would “comply with relevant content regulations”, “remove all TV dramas, online movies, news programs, documentaries, entertainment shows that do not meet the Regulations on Internet Audio-Visual Programs”, and “stricter reviews of content on the website”.
Video-streaming sites are not the only target of increased content control. On July 18, the Cyberspace Affairs Office in Beijing summoned operators of major websites including Sohu 是搜狐, NetEase 网易, iFeng 凤凰, Tencent 腾讯, Baidu 百度, Today’s Headline 今日头条, Yidian Zixun 一点资讯 and ordered them to beef up content reviews and censorship.
What content is not allowed? See my quick translation below.
“曲解政策 违背正确导向” — twisted interpretation of government policy
“无中生有 散布虚假信息” — rumours, fake information
“颠倒是非 歪曲党史国史” — wrong interpretation of the history of CCP and the nation
“格调低俗 突破道德底线” — vulgar content that crossed the bottom line of morals
“惊悚诱导 标题党现象泛滥” — sensationalism
“抄袭盗图 版权意识淡薄” — plagiarism
“炫富享乐 宣扬扭曲价值观” — worship of money and hedonism
“题无禁区 挑战公序良俗” — no respect for prohibited topics, challenging social norms
Who gets to define “bottom line”, “fake news”, “twisted interpretation” and “prohibited topics”? I guess long story short, any content that does not convey “positive energy” is not allowed.
Society and Tech
Here is a bizarre news and a latest example of how scarily predominant WeChat is becoming in China. Police in Nanjing city, capital of China’s eastern Jiangsu province, has launched a Didi Taxi-like service on WeChat. But instead of hailing a taxi and drivers race to pick up an order, a user reports crime (mostly petty crimes) on the platform and poliment would race to take the case. The silvering lining is that according to the public security bureau in Nanjing, the efficiency of policemen’s work has increased by 50 percent since the launch of that feature.
But hey, you don’t always need technology to keep track of crimes or suspicious activities. According to Caixin, police in one of the most densely populated districts in downtown Beijing are recruiting thousands of assistants to keep its migrant population in check.
Business and Tech
One of Alibaba AI lab’s papers accepted into ACM Multimedia: how to ID a person by his/her figure, movement & other non-facial features.