China Announces ‘National Campaign to Clean Up’ Internet

Chinese President Xi Jinping walks with Tonga's King Tupou VI (not seen) during a welcome ceremony in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on March 1, 2018. King Tupou VI is on a state visit to China. / AFP PHOTO / GREG BAKER (Photo credit should read GREG …
GREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images

The Chinese government newspaper Global Times announced a “national campaign to clean up the online environment” in an article on Friday outlining new restrictions on the content of internet advertising.

Under communist ruler Xi Jinping, Beijing has significantly expanded its censorship of online content. The Chinese Communist Party can force social media networks to take down any language they consider inappropriate and has targeted thousands of websites publishing content it deems incompatible with “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

The Global Times notes that this censorship will soon include all advertising content.

“China is going on a national campaign to clean up the online environment, including inappropriate online videos distorting popular cartoon characters and online games,” the Times stated, citing another government outlet, Xinhua. “Major internet companies including Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent were asked to strengthen their self-discipline and supervision against pornographic, obscene and vulgar content.”

The article notes that “politically sensitive content” is on the top of the censorship list, followed by ads “that threaten public order and people’s health.” The piece did not specify what an article has to do to “threaten public order.”

The campaign “aimed at rectifying and correcting internet advertising” will begin by targeting “online advertising on 1,000 major websites, 1,000 leading regional or national media, 1,000 mobile applications and 1,000 public accounts on various social media platforms,” the newspaper reported. It added that some corporations have already faced punishment, citing the following examples:

According to the list, Qiancheng Technology, a network technology company based in Shanghai, published ads of “nude loans,” wherein people provide naked photos as loan collateral. The company was fined 800,000 yuan ($122,000) for the advertisements and vulgar pictures and text on its Weibo account.

A dry-cleaning company called Sunway was fined 600,000 yuan for illegally using images of national leaders in advertisements and exaggerating the size of the company.

China’s censors expanded their reach on social media significantly this week following the announcement that Communist Party officials would move to do away with term limits on the presidency, allowing Xi Jinping to hold the title potentially indefinitely. The announcement appeared to trigger a wave of criticism on social media, resulting in Beijing censoring trigger phrases such as “I don’t agree,” “re-election,” “Winnie the Pooh” (a nickname Xi’s critics use), and the letter N from popular social media sites such as Weibo.

The expansion built upon a torrent of censorship since Xi’s term began in 2013, however. In December, Reuters unveiled that China had shut down over 13,000 websites and ten million social media accounts between 2015 and the end of 2017. In the first year Reuters investigated, China arrested 15,000 people for “internet crimes.”

China’s censorship is possible because it controls such a large percentage of internet connections and invests heavily in a network of government monitors paid to make sure any dissident material gets taken offline at a moment’s notice. The Communist Party has such a stronghold on its own internet that it has begun expanding its reach to attempt to silence voices it does not like abroad, using government media outlets to promote the benefits of “harmony” at the expense of free speech and bullying global corporations with threats to shut them out of Chinese markets if they do not conform.

The latter tactic saw the silencing of corporations as large as Marriott hotels and Mercedes-Benz this year. China threatened to cut Marriott and other hotel chains out of their market if they did not remove the nation of Taiwan and other regions China considers to be under its control, like Hong Kong and Macao, from a drop-down menu communist censors found on one of their sites listing “countries.” Marriott immediately removed the offending names and apologized, fearing financial retribution.

Mercedes-Benz’s crime was a post on Instagram quoting the Dalai Lama, which Beijing has called a terrorist and compared to Adolf Hitler when becoming aware of the Mercedes post. That company also failed to defend its right to post freely on its own social media outside of China.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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