Internet regulator instructs platforms to create ‘healthy’ online environment

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China’s internet regulator has instructed online platform operators ensure that their content recommendation algorithms create a “healthy” and “positive” online environment, according to draft rules released on Tuesday.

Why it matters: The Chinese government has taken an increasingly heavy hand when dealing with online content. Beijing has accelerated efforts to rid the internet of “inappropriate content.” Few of the country’s tech companies have managed to avoid censure during the campaign.

“Online platforms should strengthen management of information recommendation or presentation by methods including manual editing or machine algorithms to create a positive and healthy ecosystem.”

–Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC)

Details: The CAC’s draft regulations cover a wide range of online platforms from websites to apps and online forums. The document is open for public comment until October 10.

  • Recommendations by algorithms should not include content that undermines national unity, disseminates false information, subverts the national regime, or disrupts economic order.
  • However, the CAC promotes content that publicizes Xi Jinping Thought, socialist core values, and increases the influence of Chinese culture on the international stage.
  • Platforms are required to create systems to conduct real-time inspections, respond to emergencies, and handle online rumors, with the rules consolidating previously implemented measures.
  • Companies will also need to improve regulation of “hot topics” and top search terms to ensure they don’t contain prohibited content.
  •  Users should take an active role in governing online platforms through complaints and reporting illegal content, the CAC said.

Context: Operators of services ranging from dating apps to short video platforms have all been censured for hosting “vulgar” content. Companies including Tencent, Weibo, Baidu, and Bytedance have all been affected by an extended operation to clean up China’s cyberspace.

  • Regulators have also sought to expand social credit blacklists to online platforms and their users to punish conduct that is deemed to be untrustworthy.