China's internet regulator squeezes famously freewheeling Reddit-alike

App already banned, now it's getting very close supervision


China's internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), has taken unusually strong action against a social network that has long been considered a thorn in the side of the nation's elites.

The site in question is Douban: a Reddit-like affair that started life as a forum to discuss books, music, and film. In the years since its 2005 founding, the site has become known for attracting users who express opinions that China's government may well find displeasing. Commenters have, for example, generally been unafraid to share frank opinions of works considered to represent exceptional expressions of Chinese patriotism.

That culture has sparked numerous controversies – most famously when users downvoted the film The Wandering Earth, based on a novel of the same name by Chinese sci-fi author Liu Cixin, whose works are considered seminal contributions to the genre in China. Liu's novel, The Three Body Problem, took the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2015, and is being adapted for Netflix by the showrunners who made Game of Thrones. Dissing Liu is therefore a big deal.

Douban's app has already been banned and the organisation has been fined for leaking user data.

Yesterday, the CAC announced that its parent body, the State Internet Information Office, has declared that Douban is in a state of "chaos" and a "work supervision team" has therefore been stationed at Douban "to urge rectification."

The CAC frequently urges Chinese web companies to rectify their behavior and inspects their efforts to do so.

Sending a team in to observe Douban is a new level of – ahem – involvement in the affairs of a social network. That the intervention was conducted at a controversial company only makes it more noteworthy – but not unusual or entirely unexpected. In the last year China has repeatedly issued regulations aimed at cleansing its internet of lewd and controversial content.

Earlier this week, the CAC revealed draft guidelines for the protection of minors that include a requirement for device-makers to install a special kid-friendly content filter on the machines they sell, and for website operators and other electronic media to protect the interests of China's children at all times.

The new guidelines follow bans on gaming aimed at preventing youth from becoming addicted, a ban on the depiction of effeminate men, and numerous other crackdowns on content that's not felt to represent traditional or Party values. ®

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