China’s Internet watchdog has scrubbed the country’s already highly-censored web of nearly 10,000 social media accounts in the past three weeks. It is the ruling Communist Party’s latest move to clamp down on freedom of expression.
The cleanup began Oct. 20, the Cyberspace Administration of China said in a statement posted late Monday to its official website. The cleansing follows a similar purge in June, that took down scores of entertainment news media accounts, among others.
More than 9,800 accounts were removed from Chinese social media platforms such Wechat and Weibo, the country’s Twitter equivalent, as well as from its Google-like search engine Baidu. The sweep also included leading private sector news aggregators Toutiao and Sohu.
“Some spread politically harmful information, maliciously distorted party or state history, slandered heroes, or discredited the country’s image. Some created rumors, spread fake information, generated clickbait… disrupting the normal social order,” the CAC statement said. It went on to say that other deleted accounts had participated in “malicious marketing,” extortion, or copyright infringement, while others had spread vulgar content, “challenging the moral bottom line and harming the healthy growth of the majority of young people.”
Deleted accounts included those of “a popular talk show celebrity, an entertainment blogger who shared film footage, online influencers commenting on social issues, and bloggers writing extensively on ethnicity,” according to the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.
China has severely ramped up media policing since its President Xi Jinping took office in 2012, and is increasingly concerned that airwaves and chatrooms should only be filled with government-friendly, “positive” content. Western social media sites including Google, Facebook, and Twitter are inaccessible in Mainland China. Only content that passes strict censorship reviews is ever aired or screened.
The crackdowns have sometimes had unintended consequences. In 2016, authorities hilariously banned live-streamers from eating bananas in an “erotic” fashion while on camera. Last summer, they famously banned Western teen idol Justin Bieber from performing in the mainland. Authorities cited unspecified bad behavior on and off stage that they said made him an unsavory persona who would prevent China from “purifying” and “maintaining order” in its performing arts scene. And in January, authorities asked TV shows to keep off air performers displaying tattoos or anything related to hip-hop music or sub-cultures.
The CAC called meetings to issue “serious warnings” to managers of Sina Weibo and Tencent’s WeChat, it said. The companies had been chastized for “irresponsible and neglectful management” of the social media space that had “allowed wild growth and caused all kinds of chaos.”