On August 11, while the Chinese public attention is focusing on the powerful earthquake that struck Sichuan and Xinjiang, China’s internet regulator — the Cyberspace Administration of China — announced that it’s investigating China’s top three internet giants for potentially violating the Cybersecurity Law.
The Cyberspace Administration specified that it is the three giants’ social media platforms — Tencent’s WeChat (China’s biggest messaging app), Sina’s Weibo (China’s leading online news and social networking service), and Baidu’s Tieba ( China’s largest BBS-like communication platform) — that are under investigation.
According to the announcement, Weibo, WeChat, and Tieba have users who “spread information of violence and terror, false rumors, pornography, and other information that jeopardizes national security, public safety, and social order.” The three companies are suspected of violating China’s Cybersecurity Law, because they fail to “fulfill duties to manage those illegal information uploaded by their users.”
To show its resolution, the Cyberspace Administration also vowed to “further increase the intensity of internet content supervision and law enforcement” toward illegal acts online. In addition, the Cyberspace Administration welcomed netizens to report any “harmful” online information and published its 24-hour hotline number, website, and email.
The timing of this crackdown is quite noteworthy. In mid-June, the Communist Party of China (CPC) sent a discipline inspection group to the Cyberspace Administration and later published an article, rebuking the administration for multiple problems. But because of the CPC’s typical way of speaking in jargon and cliches, it’s hard to grasp — even for Chinese speakers — what problems the CPC was really referring to.
For example, the administration was criticized for “lacking a sense of political responsibility,” “abusing power from time to time,” and “failing to safeguard political security.” Yet the criticism was so vague and ambiguous that the readers couldn’t know for sure whether the administration abused its power for cracking down too much on the internet or not enough.
Regardless, it is obvious that the Cyberspace Administration understood the CPC’s point that more intense internet content supervision is needed. The crackdown on the three internet giants is just the latest in a series of moves increasing China’s internet control, as The Diplomat has been following. Some Chinese netizens commented on the crackdown by quoting the famous line from the television show Game of Thrones: “Winter is coming.”