China wants to censor all comments on social media
The new changes affect Regulations on the administration of Internet Post Comments Services, a regulation that first came into force in 2017. Five years later, the Cyberspace Administration wants to update it.
“The proposed revisions primarily update the current version of the comment rules to bring them in line with the language and guidelines of recent government, such as new laws on personal data protection, data security and general content regulations,” said Jeremy Daum, senior fellow at Yale Law. Schools Paul Tsai China Center.
The provisions cover many types of comments, including everything from forum posts, replies, messages left on public bulletin boards, and “bullet chat” (an innovative way that video platforms in China use to display real-time comments on top of a video). All formats, including texts, symbols, GIFs, images, sound and videos, are covered by this regulation.
There is a need for independent regulation of comments because the large number makes them difficult to censor as strictly as other content, such as articles or videos, says Eric Liu, a former censor for Weibo who is now researching Chinese censorship at China Digital Times.
“One thing everyone in the censorship industry knows is that no one notices the answers and the bullet chats. They are moderated carelessly, with minimal effort,” says Liu.
But recently there have been several difficult cases where comments under the government’s Weibo accounts became junk, pointed out the government’s lies or rejected the official story. This may be what has prompted the regulator’s proposed update.
Chinese social platforms are currently at the forefront of censorship work, and often actively remove posts before the government and other users can even see them. ByteDance is known to employ thousands of content reviewers, who make up the largest number of employees in the company. Other companies outsource the task to “censorship-for-hire” companies, including one owned by China’s party spokesman People’s Daily. The platforms are often punished for letting things slip.
Beijing is constantly refining control over social media, repairing loopholes and imposing new restrictions. But the vagueness of recent revisions makes people worry that the government may ignore practical challenges. For example, if the new rule of requiring pre-publication of reviews is strictly enforced – which will require reading billions of public messages posted by Chinese users every day – it will force the platforms to dramatically increase the number of people they hire to carry out censorship. The difficult question is that no one knows whether the government intends to enforce this immediately.