China outsources censorship to web giants to break the fake news business model

The likes of WeChat and Weibo suddenly have a lot of work to do – including turning off the money tap

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) has announced new requirements for platforms, to prevent accounts that spread fake news or misinformation from monetizing their content.

Revealed on Monday, the 13 rules apply to "self-media" – publishers and social media accounts not operated or approved by government, and therefore the responsibility of social media and hosting platforms.

Platforms will have to enhance review processes for new accounts and name changes. Accounts with political, government, military or media logos must be manually reviewed, and blocked if found to be imposters.

The likes of WeChat and Weibo also get the task of checking proper qualifications for those proclaiming to offer professional services – such as those in the finance, education, medical or legal industries.

Furthermore, platforms must ensure accounts that post about current events, policies or other news must label their sources. First-hand accounts of news must include time and location of any photos and videos, and disclose if they are artificially generated. Old news, rumors and disputed information must be cited as such. Publishing negative information and customer disasters, and stirring up old news, are also prohibited.

Accounts with a violation – or that have changed their subject material in the past three months – must be barred from monetizing their content through platforms' advertising offerings, e-commerce services, live-stream facilities, and other money-making services. Any account that has content banned immediately loses its ability to make profit for two to three times the duration of the ban. Vulgar accounts and those that "violate good morals" also get money-making ability removed.

"Self-media accounts will be shut down, blacklisted and reported to cyberspace departments if they are found to have produced rumors, stirred up the public or spread illegal or harmful information," wrote the CAC. If an account acquires new fans through bad behavior, those fans get removed. Those that do so habitually are permanently forbidden from adding fans and may even have existing fans taken away.

And while they're doing all of the above, platforms must set up a warning education column, publish information on offenders, and regularly remind "self-media" accounts to fall in line.

Sounds like WeChat, Weibo, and others suddenly have a lot on their hands.

This is not the first time the CAC has taken action against "self-media." In March, it ordered platforms to take action against naughty accounts as part of Operation Qinglang – an internet cleanup drive launched in 2021. According to state-sponsored media, more than 1.41 million pieces of "improper" information have been scrubbed from the internet and over 66,600 accounts shut down. ®

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