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Chinese State Media: A.I. Helping Promote ‘Obscene’ Content Online

A woman uses her smartphone in Beijing on November 11, 2017. China's smartphone masses splurged billions of dollars in an e-commerce bonanza on November 11 as consumers rushed to snap up bargains on 'Double 11', billed as the world's biggest one-day online shopping festival. / AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR …

An op-ed in Chinese state media this week blamed artificial intelligence for the rise of “obscene” content from the internet.

A piece written in the propaganda outlet Global Times by a “postgraduate student in translation studies at Beijing Language and Culture University” argues that artificial intelligence technologies “pushes what it considers the most interesting posts to users” and therefore leads to the rise of “vulgar” content such as “pornography, drug use, or gambling.”

“Popularity is an important principle for the selections, but such a mode lacks reviews carried out to examine whether the content is improper,” the piece reads. “When users click and watch videos featuring vulgar content, the platforms recommend similar ones.”

“As a result, lots of inappropriate content is pushed frequently and spreads quickly,” it continues. “Worse, that prompts other similar platforms to provide more vulgar content to gain popularity.” The Times does not elaborate on what constitutes “vulgar” conduct, though they mention discussion of drug use and “pornography” throughout the piece. Given that China also routinely bans political content that does not align with the Communist Party’s ideology, it is likely political speech also falls under this category.

The article goes on to cite previous cases of cyber impropriety, such as the news application Toutiao, which allowed “vulgar content [to] run rampant on the platform, disrupting the cyber environment.”

On Monday, authorities suspended Toutaio alongside four other popular news apps in a bid to “regulate order in the broadcasting environment” and crack down on claims of “heavy advertising, fake new, and vulgar content.”

“Against this backdrop, inappropriate content should be removed immediately, ” the Global Times piece continues, adding that “website managers and employees who allow harmful content to be broadcast should be held accountable” in order to “create a healthy online environment. ”

With the rise of the internet and mass communication, controlling news and information has become an increasing priority for the government, which is now enforcing strict regulation and rampant censorship on all forms of online communication.

In the past three years alone, authorities have shut down over 13,000 news websites, while selectively blocking hostile content such as jokes surrounding Xi Jinping or North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

Authorities have also implemented what is known as the “Great Firewall,” which disables access to free flows of information by blocking platforms such as Facebook, Google, Twitter, and American news sites.

However, there is also evidence that China may use aspects of artificial intelligence to their advantage. Last October, it emerged that nine million citizens of Hangzhou have been under constant surveillance by artificial intelligence since 2016 by a “City Brain” that tracks levels of traffic, crime, commutes, purchases, interactions.

Experts have also warned that China is “rapidly closing the gap” with the U.S. in developing robotic technologies and now aim to be the first nation with militarized artificial intelligence, robotics, and quantum computing.

Follow Ben Kew on Facebook, Twitter at @ben_kew, or email him at


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