China wants to censor all comments on social networks


The new changes affect the provisions relating to the management of Internet commenting services, a regulation that entered into force for the first time in 2017. Five years later, the Cyberspace Administration wants to bring it up to date.

“The proposed revisions primarily update the current version of the Comment Rules to align them with the language and policies of the most recent authorities, such as new privacy laws, data security and general regulations. content,” says Jeremy. Daum, senior fellow at the Paul Tsai China Center at Yale Law School.

The provisions cover many types of comments, including anything related to forum posts, replies, messages left on public bulletin boards, and “bullet talks” (an innovative way that video platforms in China use to display real-time comments on a video). All formats, including text, symbols, GIFs, images, audio, and video fall under this policy.

Autonomous regulations on comments are needed because their large number makes them difficult to censor as rigorously as other content, such as articles or videos, says Eric Liu, a former Weibo censor who is currently studying Chinese censorship at the China Digital Times.

“One thing everyone in the censorship industry knows is that no one pays attention to replies and bulleted discussions. They are moderated recklessly, with minimal effort,” Liu says.

But recently, there have been several embarrassing instances where comments under government Weibo accounts have gone rogue, pointing out government lies or dismissing the official narrative. This could be what prompted the update proposed by the regulator.

Chinese social platforms are currently at the forefront of censorship work, often actively deleting posts before the government and other users can even see them. ByteDance employs thousands of content reviewers, who make up the largest number of employees in the business. Other companies outsource the task to “censorship-for-hire” companies, including an owned by Chinese party spokesman People’s Daily. The platforms are often punished to let things go.

Beijing is constantly refining its control of social media, fixing loopholes and introducing new restrictions. But the vagueness of the latest revisions has people worried the government is ignoring the practical challenges. For example, if the new rule on mandatory pre-posting reviews is to be strictly enforced – which would require reading billions of public messages posted by Chinese users every day – this will force platforms to dramatically increase the number of people they employ to transport uncensored. The tricky question is that no one knows if the government intends to implement this immediately.


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