Beijing education authorities rule out ads, hongbao in student WeChat groups

2 min read

Beijing’s Municipal Education Commission on Tuesday published a slew of new rules banning ads, online games, and red packets,” among others, from elementary or middle school-related social media.

The rules cover apps, microblogging accounts on Weibo, chatroom-like groups on popular messaging platforms WeChat and QQ, and WeChat’s official accounts—often used by organizations for media or public relations purposes. The commission requires schools and teachers to evaluate such services and correct any violations before March 1.

The move comes after China’s Ministry of Education banned apps it deemed to be harmful from school campuses last month, targeting pornographic and violent content, online gaming, and advertising. The ban followed calls by Chinese President Xi Jinping to create a “clean and righteous cyberspace.”

The new list of rules is both exhaustive and detailed. Forbidden topics include the obvious like violence and porn, but also public mention of students’ rankings, extra homework or schoolwork, and other exam-oriented content that could put extra pressure on students.

District authorities, schools, and teachers will be held accountable for enforcing the new restrictions, and for encouraging parents to be careful when installing apps aimed at younger children.

Within student, teacher, and parent chat groups, discussion must not make students’ grades public, praise or criticize individual pupils, or compare their family backgrounds. Spammy content is also frowned-upon: unrelated ads, calls for help, fundraising, and baby photos are mentioned as undesirable. Temporary groups must be disbanded after they’re no longer needed.

Education-related apps will face extra scrutiny; in order to be allowed on the campuses of elementary or middle school groups in Beijing, apps must first pass a two-tier review by schools and the education commission. The inspection includes checks on privacy protection as well as content. Apps may not charge students, organize tests and competitions, or place learners under undue academic pressure.

The WeChat public accounts of schools and educational organizations, similarly, can only be used pending the approval of the local district education commission.

While stringent, the new rules have some precedent. The Cyber Administration of China has continued its online crackdowns by taking down over 9,300 apps this month alone. In addition, authorities have shown concern over apparent privacy issues in a variety of popular apps. The recent guidelines, while sometimes sounding like a manual on social media etiquette, echo those concerns.