Two China-based employees of ByteDance, the developer of short video app TikTok, were sentenced to prison for taking bribes to prioritize certain content on the video platform. The arrests come amidst the common phenomenon of faking popularity through Chinese online media.
A Beijing court sentenced Wang Moudi to 14 months in prison and Zhang Mouying to one year in prison with a suspended sentence of 18 months. Both were fined 20,000 yuan (about $3,140).
The verdict said that the men, one is 20 years old, the other 18, worked in two different associated companies of ByteDance, and were occupied with hot search and hot spot-content planning for Douyin, the Chinese version of Tiktok. The two were charged with receiving a total of 576,000 yuan ($90,400) in bribes from 2019 to 2020 and pushing specified content onto Douyin’s Hot List upon request.
In July 2020, former U.S. President Donald Trump announced a ban on TikTok in the United States for alleged national security concerns, reported the BBC.
In addition to ByteDance, an employee of Kuaishou, another Chinese developer of a short video sharing app known as Kwai or Snack Video outside of China, obtained a total of about 88,000 Yuan ($14,000) from four companies for rigging their music chart rankings from August 2017 to January 2018. The accused was later sentenced to five months of detention, according to Chinese financial media.
Another notorious artificial manipulation is the ranking of Baidu, China’s version of Google. According to Baidu’s promotion regulations, top rankings can be purchased through auction.
In February 2016, Wei Zexi, a 21-year-old Chinese university student, suffered from a rare form of cancer. His parents found a highly ranked hospital in Beijing through Baidu, offering advanced treatment for this disease. However, after two months of treatment and spending more than 200,000 yuan ($31,000), Wei died. The treatment was deemed to be ineffective and the methods used had stopped being employed 20 years prior, according to China National Radio in May 2016.
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