China's Bytedance seals BuzzFeed tie-up amid online content crackdown

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BEIJING/SHANGHAI (Reuters) - A popular Chinese news portal has signed a deal with U.S. online media company BuzzFeed to distribute its content to local readers, a rare tie-up that will test the limits of China’s tight rules on online content and its strict censorship machine.

Bytedance, best known for its news feed platform Toutiao, said in a statement on Friday it had reached an agreement with BuzzFeed to publish content from the U.S. group on its news and video platforms in China and other parts of the world.

Toutiao, founded in 2012, is one of the country’s fastest-growing tech start-ups, valued at around $20 billion last year. It uses algorithms and artificial intelligence to select news, online books, video and other content for readers.

China’s regulators, however, have been driving a fierce crackdown against online content deemed to be in violation of “socialist core values”, or that contains elements that are violent, lurid, or politically sensitive.

It is not clear in the new tie-up how Toutiao will select content from BuzzFeed, which can range from deeply-reported investigations on potentially politically sensitive topics to more low-brow lifestyle and celebrity columns.

Last month, China’s powerful Cyberspace Administration ordered Toutiao to suspend features including its current affairs and Q&A sections due to its broadcast of “vulgar” content and having an “evil influence”.

The company, which has 100 million users in China, later said it was recruiting an additional 2,000 censors to add to its team of “content auditors”, whose main job is reviewing and censoring content.

Toutiao did not respond to comment when contacted by Reuters. BuzzFeed could not be immediately reached for comment.

Last year, China brought in new rules banning virtual private networks (VPNs) and other technologies used to circumvent the country’s Great Firewall, which blocks foreign social media and news sites in the country.

Reporting by Pei Li and Adam Jourdan; Editing by Jacqueline Wong