China’s top social media marketing platforms WeChat and Weibo, and search engine Baidu, are being investigated by the Chinese government for spreading illegal content related to “terrorism, fake rumors and pornography,” which may have violated the country’s cybersecurity law.
According to a public statement released on the official website of the Cyberspace Administration of China on August 11, the government organ has filed an official case against these three platforms and is conducting a formal investigation.
Setting off the investigation were reports and complaints by Chinese online users who claim there is a lot of illegal content about “terrorism,” “fake rumors,” and “pornography” circulating on WeChat, Weibo and the public forum on Baidu (or Tieba, as it is known in Mandarin).
“This type of content does harm to China’s national security, public safety and social order,” the Cybersecurity Administration wrote. “Three online platforms are suspected of violating China’s Cybersecurity Law as they have not fulfilled their duties of regulating the forbidden information.”
This is also the first time that the country’s top internet regulator launched a formal investigation into major social media platforms since China’s new Cybersecurity Law went into force in May 2017. The issue represents a culmination of a series of internet crackdowns engineered by Chinese government officials over the past several months, with the aim of tightening its grip over the flow of online information.
In early June, internet regulators shut down 60 social media accounts including the Hearst-owned fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar that has a large following and social influence on Weibo and WeChat. Regulators claimed, at that time, that those publications were spreading celebrity news and gossip, undermining socialist values. The crackdown further spread to the booming live-streaming industry, which has become the core business for companies like Weibo.
Many Western publications have said the crackdown is partially owed to the upcoming 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. Occurring every five years, the event is one of the most important for the Communist Party and marks a significant change in its top leadership. President Xi Jinping is about to complete his five-year term and expects to renew it.
Upon the official announcement, WeChat, Weibo and Baidu all immediately released statements to indicate their willingness and determination to closely cooperate with the government to solve these issues on their platforms. The oversight of online media content should alert international luxury brands, which now heavily rely on these social media apps to operate their business in China.