People’s Daily, the official newspaper of Chinese Communist Party, published an op-ed denouncing algorithm-driven news distribution platforms for the echo chamber they potentially create. The news aggregator Toutiao is name-checked by the critique.

Founded by 34-year-old engineer Zhang Yiming, Toutiao recommends articles and videos based on user data and reading habits. As of 2016, the app claimed 175 million monthly active users who spent an average of 76 minutes on it per day. The five-year-old startup chants the slogan, “only the news you care about are headlines,” a value proposition that the op-ed bashes: By consuming only favorable content, people never get exposed to alternative viewpoints or unfamiliar types of news, and end up living in an insulated, filtered bubble.

Toutiao has recently caught much attention for its rapid growth. The company’s valuation tops $22 billion in August as it’s raising around $2 billion. China’s Twitter-equivalent Weibo, which also works as a news platform to the extent that news are shared via friends, has a market cap of $20 billion as of August. Toutiao has been viewed, along with food delivery service Meituan and ride-hailing app Didi, to be the next BAT—China’s internet trinity of Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent. Toutiao is also one of the few lucrative Chinese internet companies that haven’t received any fundings from BAT.

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Rita Liao

Telling the uncommon China stories through tech. I can be reached at ritacyliao [at] gmail [dot] com.