Chinese regulator raps internet firms over vulgar content

BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - A Chinese content regulator has rapped major tech companies, including Alibaba Holding Ltd, Tencent Holdings Ltd and Baidu Inc, for not doing enough to root out “harmful information” published on their platforms.

A map of China is seen through a magnifying glass on a computer screen showing binary digits in Singapore in this January 2, 2014 photo illustration. REUTERS/Edgar Su

The anti-pornography office of China’s powerful broadcasting watchdog convened a meeting with 16 major internet companies, telling them they needed to tighten oversight of vulgar and obscene information, the official Xinhua news agency said.

“Companies who don’t fulfill their responsibilities to the full and allow harmful information to spread will be punished severely,” Xinhua quoted the regulator as saying.

China’s regulators have been cracking down on vulgar content online, such as videos, news stories, blogs and livestreams, that are seen to go against “core socialist values”, closing down websites and chastising internet firms for lax oversight.

China shut as many as 128,000 websites that contained obscene and other “harmful” information last year.

In January, police launched a crackdown against online animated cartoons containing lewd or violent content.

China’s internet watchdog in December ordered two top news feed sites to temporarily suspend parts of their platforms for broadcasting “vulgar” content.

Tencent, which brought the video game “Playerunknown’s Battleground” to China, has given the battle royale-style game a socialist makeover to meet stringent Chinese rules.

The anti-porn unit, part of the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television, said internet companies need to “improve mechanisms of content auditing and harmful information filtering”.

Last year, major portals run by Tencent, Baidu and Weibo were reprimanded and fined by China’s internet regulator for failing to properly censor content ahead of a major conference of the Chinese Communist Party.

China has also forced overseas journals to remove access to sensitive papers and book reviews on topics such as Tibet, Taiwan and the 1989 crackdown on Tiananmen Square as part of its efforts to strengthen controls over academia.

Reporting by Pei Li and Adam Jourdan; Editing by Himani Sarkar