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China’s new online content rules seek to root out fake news and deepfakes

Image credit: Roman Samborskyi | Dreamstime

Chinese regulators have announced new rules overseeing video and audio content online, including a ban on the publishing and distribution of ‘fake news’ and deepfakes created with technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and virtual reality (VR).

According to the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), who is the central internet regulatory agency for the country, any use of AI or VR also needs to be clearly marked in a prominent manner and failure to follow the rules could be considered a criminal offence.

The new rules, which are effective from the start of January 2020, were published publicly on the CAC's website today (29 November) after being issued to online video and audio service providers last week.

In a press briefing, the CAC, in particular, highlighted potential problems caused by deepfake technology, which uses AI to create hyper-realistic videos where a person appears to say or do something they did not.

Deepfake technology could “endanger national security, disrupt social stability, disrupt social order and infringe upon the legitimate rights and interests of others”, according to the transcript of the press briefing published on the CAC’s website.

China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress, said earlier this year it was considering making deepfake technology illegal, amending its Civil Code Personality Rights (Draft) to stipulate that no organisation or individual may infringe the portrait rights of others by means of digital technology forgery.

In September, a new Chinese app Zao, that allowed users to swap their faces with celebrities, sports stars or anyone else in a video clip using deepfake technology, racked up millions of downloads. However, the app swiftly drew fire over privacy issues, which resulted in the company apologising for the concerns created but said the app would not collect users’ biometric information.

Top video platforms in China include video-streaming service providers such as Tencent Video, Alibaba-owned Youku, iQIYI as well as short-video platforms such as Kuaishou and ByteDance-owned Douyin.

Furthermore, podcast platforms such as Himalaya and Dragonfly FM are the most popular audio-sharing apps in the country.

Earlier this year, the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee in the UK called for social media platforms to be regulated and forced to comply with a code of ethics to tackle illegal, manipulative and harmful content.

However, in the lead up to the elections of the European Parliament in May this year, EU officials said they were becoming increasingly exasperated over social media giant Facebook’s reluctance to share important data related to its efforts to curb disinformation campaigns.

A few months later, Singapore introduced new legislation to combat fake news, introducing a law which forces websites to correct, flag up or remove fake news – becoming one of the first countries to do so.

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