Censorship in China: NetEase fined for carrying ‘inappropriate’ comments on news platforms

Company representatives told to rectify offending content, punish those who allowed it to be published, Beijing Internet Information Office says. Watchdog also orders comments function to be suspended for a week. — SCMP

Chinese tech firm NetEase has been fined and had the comments function on its news platforms suspended for allowing them to carry views and opinions deemed inappropriate, censors said on Saturday.

According to a statement published on WeChat by the Beijing Internet Information Office, the company repeatedly allowed reader comments on news articles that were “in violation of laws and regulations or relevant rules”.

Representatives of NetEase were summoned by the state-run watchdog and told to rectify the offending content and punish those who allowed it to be published, the statement said.

The company was issued with a fine and ordered to suspend its comments function for a week from Saturday to Oct 17, it said.

The watchdog did not specify the size of the fine or give details of the content it deemed offensive.

NetEase apologised and said it would conduct an investigation into the incident.

China’s censors maintain a tight grip on Internet content in all forms and earlier this year introduced new rules to crack down on online “rumours” and other material deemed unacceptable.

The regulations, which were announced by the Cyberspace Administration of China in December and took effect on March 1, put the responsibility for content not only on the websites that host it but also service providers, content producers and users.

Online content should be mainly positive, uplifting and devoid of rumours, the administration said.

Any material that harmed national interests, spread rumours, disrupted the economic or social order or was overtly sexual, horrific or vulgar would not be allowed, it said.

Companies and individuals found to be in breach of the new rules could face legal action, the administration said.

Yik Chan Chin, an assistant professor of media and communications at Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University in the east China city of Suzhou, said Beijing’s tighter Internet controls would make people more reluctant to comment on public affairs.

“The lack of transparency means few people actually know what part of their comments might lead to their posts being deleted or their accounts shutdown,” she said.

It might also encourage some people to report “offensive” content to the authorities simply because they disagreed with it, she said.

China’s National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications said in July it removed more than 12,000 websites containing pornographic or “harmful” content in the first six months of the year. – South China Morning Post

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