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China: Anti-Pornography Campaign Targets Tech Giant

This report was originally written by Michelle Fong and published on inmediahk.net in Chinese on April 26, 2014. It was translated into English by Jennifer Cheung and edited for Global Voices style by Ellery Biddle. All sources in Chinese.

Chinese authorities’ latest crackdown on pornography and vulgar content online targets Sina, a leading Internet service provider that has been assisting the regime in censoring online speech.

Law enforcement authorities detailed Sina’s pornographic contents, found mainly in their reading channels and video programs, content click-rates, and revenue incurred. Authorities reportedly intend to revoke Sina’s Internet publishing license and its permit to disseminate audio-visual programs.

Since the campaign's launch, Chinese government authorities have seized and suspended more than 110 porn sites and channels, along with over 3,300 blogs, WeChat accounts and forums. They have blocked over 7,000 pornographic advertising hyperlinks, and deleted more than 200,000 pieces of pornographic information. In addition to Sina, more than 20 literature websites were disciplined, including Sohu Original Literature (Sohu Yuanchuang), Magic Fiction Chinese (Huanxia Zhongwenwang), Yuelu Novel Network (Yuelu Xiaoshuowang), and Reading Net (Kanshu Wang).

One can still find half naked online game Ads online despite the crackdown. Screen capture from Chinese online game forum.

One can still find racy game ads online, despite the crackdown. Screen capture from Chinese online game forum.

Southern Metropolis Daily reported that some web game companies have been notified by the authorities that game characters are no longer allowed to expose sensitive body parts, or to wear short sleeves, shorts or bikinis in the future. They also stipulated that male and female main and supporting characters should no longer have any form of physical contact.

Netizens have cast doubt on the real intention of authorities’ anti-porn sweep. Many of those born in the '80s and '90s, who were the “protected subject” of the campaign, are joking that they are “finally experiencing the Cultural Revolution.”

Some netizens have asked why the government is targeting Sina, but not large-scale producers of pornography. Others believe that Sina was targeted because of the popularity of Weibo, the leading microblogging platform operated by Sina. Sina Weibo has over 100 million registered users and is listed in the United States. Although Sina has been working with the Chinese government to monitor the Internet, it still fails to prevent netizens from circumventing censorship and disseminating sensitive information. Many suspect that the clean-up campaign is just another excuse for the regime to crack down on Internet speech with impunity.

Twitter user @WL Yeung wrote, “On the eve of the 18th communist party national congress, Beijing will again tighten its grip on freedom of speech in the name of ‘anti-pornography’.” Another user wrote, “Senior party officials can make love with mistresses without being punished, but we are not even allowed to masturbate.”

Government agencies including the National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications, the State Internet Information Office, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and the Ministry of Public Security launched the “Internet Anti-Pornography Campaign of 2014″ in April — it is expected to last through November 2014. Major official media are all actively involved in the campaign, writing critical commentaries and publishing special reports on the issue.

China's Internet Society, a non-governmental organization, even proposed to establish a “Porn Blacklist Sharing Mechanism”, which was welcomed by major network operators and Internet enterprises, including Thunder, Qihoo 360, Baidu, and China Telecom, among others. Ironically, Sina also said it would support the proposal.

This is not the Chinese Communist Party's first ‘anti-pornography’ campaign. In 2012, the Economic Observer, which had been in business for a decade, was shut down by the Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications of the Beijing Cultural Affairs Bureau on charges of “publishing outside the registered region,” after the newspaper published a series of investigative reports on the Beijing flood. During that period, the CCP also actively clamped down on “Tibetan separatists” who engage in publication and dissemination by setting up a Tibetan publications censorship mechanism under an “anti-pornography” mantle, so as to “implement an all-around anti-infiltration and prevention system covering ground, air and cyberspace.” 

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