China’s largest social media platforms under government investigation
Continuing its crackdown on internet freedom, the Chinese government has put the country’s three largest social media networks under investigation for spreading rumours, terrorist content and obscene material.
Weibo, WeChat and Baidu Tieba could be prosecuted for breaking China’s strict cyber-security laws.
The social networks have been accused by the Office for Cyberspace Administration for failing to monitor the content their users are sharing. The administration said that the sites’ dissemination of inappropriate content was “jeopardising national security”.
“Users are spreading violence, terror, false rumours, pornography and other hazards to national security, public safety, social order,” the administration said in a post on its web site. Specifically, Baidu has been accused of failing to comply with new laws governing obscene, violent and offensive content.
A Baidu spokesperson said that the company will “actively cooperate with government departments to rectify the issue and increase the intensity of auditing”.
President Xi Jinping has sought to prove himself a strong advocate of the concept of “cyber sovereignty”, resulting in the introduction of increasingly strict cyber-security laws in China. Critics consistently argue that the ruling Communist Party is attempting to seek to restrict public access to information.
According to the Chinese government, new cyber-security laws, which came into force at the end of May 2017, were intended to protect national security by requiring companies to undergo security checks and store user data within the country.
Foreign businesses with operations in China have spoken out against the law, however, saying that they would struggle to operate under these restrictions.
Recent internet crackdowns have involved the government taking extreme, Orwellian steps to preventing freedom of expression on the internet. While major foreign web sites such as Google, Facebook and Twitter have been banned for many years, forces in Beijing have more recently blocked overseas users from posting about the Tiananmen Square massacre, removed chatbots for expressing unpatriotic sentiments and banned the image of Winnie the Pooh, reportedly due to jokes comparing the fictional teddy bear to President Xi Jinping.
The upcoming 19th National Congress of the Communist Party, which could see a reshuffling of figures in the most senior ranks of government, will be held in Beijing later this year, and all forms of security and surveillance are being intensified ahead of the event.