China wants all social media comments to be pre-reviewed before publishing
The new changes affect Provisions on the Management of Internet Post Comments Services, a regulation that first came into effect in 2017. The Cyberspace Administration is trying to bring it up-to-date five years later.
The proposed revisions primarily update and align the current comment rules with the language and policies that are more recent, such as new laws regarding personal information security and general content regulations.” says Jeremy Daum (a senior fellow at Yale Law School’s Paul Tsai China Center).
The provisions cover many types comments, including replies, forum posts, messages left on public message boards and “bulletchats ” (an innovative method that video platforms in China use for real-time comments to be displayed on top of a video). This regulation covers all formats, including text, symbols, GIFs and pictures, as well as audio and video.
There is a need to have a separate regulation for comments, as they are more difficult to censor than other content like articles and videos. Eric Liu, an ex-censor at Weibo, is now studying Chinese censorship at China Digital Times.
” Everyone in the censorship industry is aware that bullet chats and replies are ignored. They are moderated with minimal effort and carelessness,” Liu says.
However, there have been a few cases in which comments made under government Weibo accounts went rogue. These comments were critical of government lies or rejected the official narrative. This could have prompted the regulator to propose an update.
Chinese social media platforms are currently at the forefront of censorship work. They often actively remove posts before government and other users can see them. ByteDance employs thousands of content reviewers. They make up the largest number of employees at the company. Other companies outsource the task to “censorship-for-hire” firms, including one owned by China’s party mouthpiece People’s Daily. The platforms are frequently punished for letting things slip.
Beijing is constantly improving its social media control, closing loopholes, and introducing new restrictions. The vagueness of the most recent revisions raises concerns that the government might not address practical problems. If the new rule regarding pre-publish reviews is to be strictly enforced, which would mean reading billions of messages posted by Chinese users each day, it will force platforms to dramatically increase their censorship staff. It is not clear if the government will enforce this immediately.
One specific change about “Xian Shen Hou Fa ,” a censoring practice some Chinese social media platforms use to review content before it’s even published, has particularly caught people’s attention. These stricter controls are only applied to accounts that have previously violated content censorship rules or when there is ongoing heated discussion about sensitive topics on Weibo. The 2017 version limited such actions to “comments under news information,” so it didn’t need to be applied universally. The new update removes that restriction.
On social media, some Chinese users are worried that this means the practice can be expanded to cover every single comment online. a most liked comment asks, “Is this restriction needed?”
This is a extreme interpretation of the proposed change. It would cost social media platforms astronomical amounts to censor every comment. Although Beijing may not go so far as to enforce blanket prepublish censorship, Liu believes the revisions are likely to force platforms to assume more responsibility for moderating comments sections, which have been ignored in the past. Whether there is a prepublish censorship system can affect where online social protests explode. A video about the Shanghai covid lockdown went viral on WeChat Channels, but not Douyin ,, the Chinese version TikTok. This is partly because the latter platform reviews every video before publishing it, while the former did not at the time.
The regulator is now seeking public comments on the proposed revisions until July 1, 2022, and they may not take effect for many months. Discussions about how strict they will be enforced at this time are speculative. It is clear that China is working to fix the Great Firewall’s loopholes by updating its regulations. Daum says that the most recent changes are part of China’s expansion of content regulations to include user content generated via comments and other interactive features.
The changes will also increase the number of people who can censor comments online. CAC now asks that platforms share the power of censoring comments with content creators–in Chinese internet lingo, “public account operators.” Currently, government-affiliated accounts are already empowered to do this on sites like Weibo. If the revision becomes law, creators will be able to report illegal or negative content. Although China’s internet has been censored, there is still room for sensitive topics to be discussed. “People can play a clever cat and mouse game with censors, and make creative adjustments once posts have been censored,” says William Nee (research and advocacy coordinator at Chinese Human Rights Defenders).
“However, the new system could make that next to impossible and tighten the already limited space for freedom of expression on sensitive topics even further.”
I’m a journalist who specializes in investigative reporting and writing. I have written for the New York Times and other publications.