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China to further tighten internet censorship amid rising anger over anti-Covid policy

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(TibetanReview.net, Nov19’22) – China is to further tighten its internet censorship by amending its 2017 regulations to increase the responsibilities of internet service providers and operators, including with a range of penalties on them for any failing.

The new law, taking effect on Dec 15, requires site operators and moderators to filter out ‘harmful’ news-related comments or face a range of penalties, reported the scmp.com Nov 18. It said the move comes amid growing public anger over China’s strict zero-Covid policy, with many turning to the internet to vent their anger.

Under the new regulations, Chinese social media and web video platforms must approve all news-related comments before they go online and step up training for censors to keep out “harmful” content.

The report said the updated and approved version of the 2017 Regulations on the Administration of Internet Post Comment Services, was publicised by the Chinese internet watchdog on Nov 16.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) was cited as saying in outlining the new rules that the aim is to “regulate posts and comments online, maintain national security and public interest, [and] protect the rights and interests of citizens”.

Compared with the 2017 version, the new law is said to focus more on clarifying the responsibilities of internet service providers and operators, and to direct online platforms to hire content moderation teams that will review all comments and filter out “harmful ones”.

All types of comment are said to be covered by the requirements – including original posts, replies, and real-time comments that appear on top of a video.

The proposed rules are also stated to specify the punishment associated with violations: operators failing to observe the regulation will face warnings, fines, and suspension of commenting features or even the entire service.

Social media platform operators in China, such as Weibo and WeChat, are said to have already put in place keyword-filtering algorithms to censor sensitive information, with plans also to recruit new moderators annually.

Internet censorship rules are already strict in China. In 2017, China launched its strict real-name registration system for social media, requiring users of Weibo and instant messaging service WeChat to authenticate their accounts with their national ID, mobile phone number and other personal information.

And earlier this year, several Chinese social services – including Weibo, the Quora-like question-and-answer platform Zhihu, and TikTok’s Chinese version Douyin – began to display user locations based on internet protocol (IP) addresses, a feature that users cannot disable.

The report noted that the new CAC regulation comes amid rising public discontent over stringent pandemic controls under China’s zero-Covid policy.

It said that as lockdowns, mass Covid-19 testing and border controls disrupted life following sporadic outbreaks nationwide, many people in China turned to live-streaming sites and social media to vent their anger.

Some have shared videos or articles about people under lockdown being denied medical resources and having to go without food or water for days.

The report noted that some posts had prompted official investigations, including the most recent case of a four-month-old with breathing difficulties, who died after allegedly being denied ambulance services because her father had tested positive.

But most critical posts tend to be silently scrapped from the internet, and a few people have even been detained for “spreading rumours” or “disrupting social order”, the report added.

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