China’s most censored social media giant fined for insufficient censorship

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But in the eyes of the Communist Party of China, its censorship is not enough—literally, it means that it needs to pay a price.

This is far from the first time Weibo has been fined such a huge amount by the government. According to data from the China Internet Information Office (CAC), a government agency controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, the social media giant was fined 44 times for violations in the first 11 months of this year, totaling US$2.2 million.

Weibo said in a statement that it “sincerely accepts criticism from the regulators” and has set up a working group to deal with the punishment.

Chinese social media giant Weibo fined by regulators for publishing illegal information

The latest penalty for Weibo comes two weeks after Douban, a popular movie, book, and music review site, was fined $236,000 for similar reasons — adding to the $1.4 million it has accumulated from this year to November for apparent content violations.

Chinese Internet companies have long been suppressed by the government, and their executives are often summoned by CAC for “criticism and rectification.” But analysts say that government regulators rarely publicly warn that platforms are not doing well in censorship.

“The first step of the review is that you can’t talk about the review. You can’t disclose it unless you are told. [by the government]”,” said Eric Liu, an analyst at China Digital Times. China Digital Times is an American news website that tracks censorship in China.

When announcing the penalties on Weibo and Douban, Liu said that the CCP deliberately “exposed the matter”-indicating that such severe penalties may become the norm.

In addition to government censors, Chinese Internet companies also hire dedicated moderators to monitor their platforms and delete content deemed illegal or harmful by the party—from pornography, violence, and fraud to criticizing the government and other things that the party considers “political” information. Sensitive” or “moral depravity”, such as LGBTQ content.

Analyst Mr. Liu worked as a content reviewer on Weibo from 2011 to 2013. During this period, he compiled more than 800 documents of review orders issued to the company. But now, he said, Internet regulators’ orders are issued more cautiously through more secure channels, which makes it more difficult for employees to divulge these orders.

“Now, this is the review of the censorship system. The reviewers are also under surveillance,” he said.

Under the leadership of Chairman Xi Jinping, the party has strengthened its The Internet is regarded as vulnerable to Western penetration. More than ten years ago, Weibo held a vibrant public debate on various social issues, and liberal public intellectuals were able to cultivate a large number of followers.

China Weibo suspends 21 accounts of Hallyu fans due to “irrational star-chasing behavior”

But under the leadership of Xi Jinping, the situation has changed. Today, most liberal voices have been suppressed. Topics such as feminism, the LGBTQ movement, and environmental advocacy are increasingly suspected as lackeys of Western influence, and censors struggle to keep up with the ever-expanding list of “sensitive words” or banned words.

He said that when Liu was working on Weibo, the company employed about 200 content moderators. Given that the platform now has more than 5 billion monthly active users, Liu expects this number to increase exponentially.

“As internet traffic increases, so does the pressure of censorship. Inside the firewall, everyone is facing stricter censorship—just like inflation,” he said, referring to the country’s complex internet censorship. system.

“The censorship system is expanding everywhere, which means companies need to hire more people.” Liu added that this can become a huge financial burden, especially for small companies.

Sarah Cook, director of China Studies at Freedom House, a US non-profit organization, said that the latest fines are part of an ongoing campaign by the Communist Party to “force technology companies to more strictly control the content on their platforms.”

“Considering the scale of users and the ever-changing red line, this is almost impossible for the platform, but this kind of regular fines and’rectification’ efforts keep them vigilant and motivate them to conduct censorship by the Communist Party.”

Although Internet regulators did not specify what content triggered penalties on Weibo and Douban, analysts believe that this may be related to the #MeToo scandal surrounding Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai.

Peng, 35, publicly accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault on Weibo on November 2. Her post was deleted within 30 minutes and her Weibo account was blocked, but the screenshots of her post are still in The chat groups that circulated widely on social media and privately before they were censored. Although the censors did their best to clear all discussions, even the most vague references to her allegations on the Internet, allusions and obscure discussions still appeared from time to time—including on Weibo and Douban.

“It seems that Weibo has been punished this time because of the Peng Shuai scandal. This is the biggest censorship activity this year,” Liu said. But he added that the Chinese authorities would never admit that Peng had been censored in the first place.

“We all know that some posts have been censored, but no one dares to ask why. Even discussing which posts have been censored has become a very scary and provocative act.”

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