Chinese Censors Target Short Video Apps

January 15, 2019 Updated: January 23, 2019

The Chinese regime has launched new censorship rules for short videos, prohibiting a wide range of content from spoofs of communist party leaders to videos promoting “money worship,” in its latest move to clamp down on free speech in the country’s sprawling social media scene.

The China Netcasting Services Association, one of the country’s largest government-backed internet associations, released on Jan. 9 a detailed list of 100 types of content short video platforms must expunge.

Political topics top the list, including supporting Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, or Xinjiang independence, criticizing Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders and idols, “reform and opening up” economic policies, or system of “socialism with Chinese characteristics,” and parodies of the national anthem.

Smearing the image of CCP leaders is also prohibited, including footage showing images of party leaders emblazoned on a person’s clothing that becomes distorted due to the movements of wearer. Users are also banned from editing or creating short clips from party leaders’ speeches.

News of protests or social unrest is barred, being content that would “damage social stability,” unless it is reported by formal media outlets.

The expansive list also covers instances such as being “overly hyperbolic” when positively portraying China’s armed forces, promoting “money worship,” and “sang culture.” Sang culture is an internet slogan adopted by Chinese millennials that describes the sense of despondency or hopelessness faced by many young Chinese today.

The rules also apply to video titles, introductions, and viewer comments. They further require companies to employ a team of censors with “good political character” to screen videos before publishing.

Censor Targets New Technology

New regulations are the latest in the CCP’s effort to crack down on free expression on social media, a platform that boasts an estimated 800 million active users, in a country where the internet is heavily restricted by the Great Firewall.

The rules reflect the regime’s efforts keep up with new developments in social media, and are reminiscent of regulations in 2016 that censored content on live-streaming sites according to PEN America, a group advocating for free expression for artists and writers.

“We’ve seen that when a certain type of media gets too popular, that’s when internet regulators … will put new rules in place,” James Tager, Deputy Director of Free Expression Research and Policy at PEN America, said in an email.

Short video apps have surged in popularity in recent years. Bytedance’s Douyin, known as TikTok abroad, and Kuaishou are the biggest players on the market boasting more than 100 million daily active users, who watch and post seconds-long videos that are often jazzed up with music and effects.

Tager describes controlling content on social media as just one part of the CCP’s broader campaign to snuff out voices that contradict the party line.

“The government is particularly nervous about social media’s power to mobilize collective opinion, because collective opinion could lead to collective action, something that they view as inherently threatening to their stability,” he said.

Recent examples of censorship of prominent dissenting opinions on social media include an article with more than 100 intellectuals sharing their views on the meaning of real reform in China, and a Peking University professor who called for the CCP to “fade from history.”

Chinese Netizens Oppose Censorship

Chinese netizens swiftly condemned the new rules, flooding social media with angry and often sardonic reactions.

Many commenters on Weibo, a Twitter-like platform, called for China’s regime to shut down the internet.

“Why bother drawing a red line? Won’t a complete blockade do the trick?” said one internet user.

Other users lamented the CCP’s tight control of thought and expression.

“The overall idea [of the new rules] is that all sensitive issues are to be controlled by the government. No other viewpoints are allowed,” said one netizen.

Another said, “Society is full of things that are unfair and unjust, should we just repress all of it?”

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelt the name and had the incorrect title of James Tager, Deputy Director of Free Expression Research and Policy at PEN America. The Epoch Times regrets this error. 









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