China’s Cyberspace Administration has cracked down on eight mobile browsers, ordering them to stamp out clickbait and misinformation.

Why it matters: By targeting the largest platforms, the authorities are sending out a signal to other smaller browsers that they may be next in line. Platforms that do not change their practices likely face suspensions or bans. 

Details: The order affects Alibaba-backed UC, Tencent’s QQ, Huawei, Qihoo’s 360, Tencent-backed Sogou, Xiaomi, Vivo, and OPPO.

  • The announcement says (in Chinese) that browsers have spread “chaos” by amplifying unofficial media sources and disseminating news that violates regulations. 
  • It criticizes browsers for editorializing articles to misrepresent policies that impact people’s livelihoods and spreading rumors.
  • It also singles out problems like creating clickbait through exaggeration, sadfishing, or smearing. On QQ’s homepage on Oct. 27, for instance, one top post was “No hope! Western media: No saving Huawei.”
  • Also under fire is information that is vulgar, graphic, or gossipy and against “socialist core values.”
  • Browsers must submit plans on how they will rectify their practices and conduct self-scrutiny by Oct. 28. They will also have to submit reports on the results of these assessments and their content operation system specifications by Nov. 9.
  • Huawei and QQ have already issued statements promising to clear up their browsers of questionable content. 

Context: Unlike the US where services are protected from liability for content published on their platforms, China holds companies accountable for content that appears on their home pages. Mobile web browsers wield distinct power: 872 million people in China access the internet through their mobile phones, and browser home pages have become key to their news-reading habits. 

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...