Regulator censures Bytedance’s search engine for smearing national hero

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The Beijing office of the Cyber Administration of China (CAC) on Monday summoned executives from Bytedance’s Jinri Toutiao for allowing search results which defamed a late Communist Party military leader, ordering the company to clean up its search function.

Why it matters: As one of the largest and most popular content aggregators in China, Jinri Toutiao is known for sensationalized content, leading to censure from internet regulators on a number of occasions. However, low quality content continues to thrive on the platform despite cleanup efforts.

  • The CAC summoned executives of Jinri Toutiao in November 2018, demanding that the platform conduct a self-cleanup campaign.

Details: In a post on its official WeChat account, the internet regulator said that the search engine on Jinri Toutiao linked to slanderous search results about Fang Zhimin, who is officially recognized as a revolutionary martyr in China.

  • The Beijing office of the CAC said requested Jinri Toutiao to “thoroughly clean up relevant information and punish responsible personnel,” as well as improve the platform’s search function.
  • Jinri Toutiao should “strengthen its management of searches to prevent the dissemination of any information that distorts, demonizes, blasphemes, and denies the deeds and spirits of heroes and martyrs” (our translation), the CAC post said.
  • Jinri Toutiao executives said they would carry out a full-scale rectification in time, according to the post.

Context: Bytedance has been trying to expand into online search with Jinri Toutiao since 2017 but has been met with pushback from Chinese search giant Baidu.

  • Baidu filed a lawsuit in April against Bytedance, accusing the company of stealing search results from Baidu. Bytedance sued Baidu the same day for appropriating trending videos from Douyin.
  • Jinri Toutiao rolled out its standalone search site in August.