Some of China’s biggest technology companies including Bytedance and Kuaishou may find themselves increasingly accountable for content on their platforms with the release of finalized online content regulations on Friday.

Why it matters: Authorities are likely to come down heavily on rule-breaking content after the March deadline and may suspend or shut down offending platforms.

Details: China’s Cyberspace Administration has issued finalized “regulations on ecological governance of online content” (in Chinese) on Friday following draft rules released in September.

  • The regulations ban exaggerated, rumor-laden, sexually provocative, and dangerous content which may incite copycats. Also prohibited are acts which infringe on personal privacy, use of new tech to engage in illegal acts such as artificial intelligence-powered face swapping, buying traffic, and use of the Communist Party or state symbols in marketing campaigns.
  • The rules encourage “positive energy” content that promotes Xi Jinping Thought, highlights economic development, and shows the world “the real, three-dimensional China.”
  • Platforms using personalized recommendation algorithms must include controls for manual intervention and user choice.
  • Advertisements are considered online content.
  • The regulations encourage platforms to create content versions suitable for minors.
  • The rules will be implemented March 1, 2020.

Context: While not a high budgetary priority at present, Chinese online platforms may find their content moderation policies require more attention as the stakes rise.

  • Content moderation procedures and staffing lack clear directives and support, according to an employee at a large, livestream video platform TechNode spoke with. Companies are unwilling to spend, so staff turnover is high due to irregular hours and low salaries, he explained.
  • Consistency is difficult to ensure because of the high turnover rate. Platforms fire moderators that regularly fail to recognize problematic or dangerous content but “when hands on deck are few, everyone is welcome,” (our translation) the livestream platform employee told TechNode.
  • “Many companies are already doing most of what these regulations require but it’s not clear how far they must go,” he said.
  • Platforms are finding themselves in the hot seat for content that they disseminate. The death of barehand climber Wu Yongning in May, for example, sparked public debate over platform responsibility for user behavior. Huajiao, one of several apps Wu used to broadcast his escapades, paid RMB 30,000 to his family.
  • Regulators pulled social shopping app Xiaohongshu from app store shelves for illegal advertisements in July. It took nearly three months for the app to return to stores.

Lavender Au

Lavender covers regulation and its effects on people. She previously worked in a policy advisory analyzing China’s internal governance for foreign governments and multinationals. A History graduate from...

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