Tech firms told to censor more, WhatsApp blocked in China – China’s latest top news

Jeremy Goldkorn’s selection of the top stories from China on September 25, 2017. Part of the daily SupChina newsletter, a convenient package of China’s business, political, and cultural news delivered to your inbox for free. Subscribe here.

Yet another round of internet censorship

Reuters reports that three of China’s largest tech firms have been fined for not censoring enough sensitive content. The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) did not disclose the amount of the fines given to Tencent, Baidu, and Weibo except that they would receive the “maximum penalty” for hosting banned content, including fake news and pornography, as well as content that “incites ethnic tension” and “threatens social order.” Reuters notes that the maximum penalty for any individual in charge of a platform in violation of the rules cited by CAC is 100,000 yuan ($15,110) each.

The fines — largely symbolic, as such sums of money are pocket change for these large corporations — are one result of new cybersecurity regulations that went into effect in May this year. Listen to a Sinica Podcast with Adam Segal for more on China’s tightening grip on cyberspace.

Meanwhile, in other corners of the Chinese internet:

  • The New York Times reports (paywall) that WhatsApp has finally been completely blocked in China, after years of intermittent access. It was the “last of Facebook products to still be available in mainland China,” and its demise is a setback for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who has gone to great lengths to try to crack the Chinese market. Technical specialists told the Times that because of WhatsApp’s encryption methods, the censorship may indicate that China’s cyberspace authorities “may have developed specialized software to interfere with such messages.”
  • The Times also describes (paywall) a series of crackdowns on the freedom of speech online in China, including a directive earlier this summer issued by the China Netcasting Services Association banning 68 categories of content.
  • Last week, the People’s Daily criticized (in Chinese) AI-driven news aggregator Toutiao by name, specifically warning of the danger of “information cocoons” (信息茧房 xìnxī jiǎn fáng) — echo chambers — that consumers of overly personalized newsfeeds might get trapped in.
  • Lawfare summarizes and analyzes recent Chinese government moves intended to end anonymity online in an article titled “Shrinking anonymity in Chinese cyberspace.”

Vaping in China

Although electronic cigarettes were invented in China in 2003 by Hon Lik 韩力, a pharmacist from the northeastern city of Shenyang, the habit of vaping — inhaling vaporized nicotine — has taken much longer to catch on in China than in many other markets. That’s Shanghai says this is now changing with “the rise of a new tribe of Chinese street-style-loving millennials” who have brought boom times to vape shops since late 2016.

Although many users of electronic cigarettes believe vaping is safer than conventional cigarette smoking, the jury is still out: A 2014 investigation (paywall) by the New York Times found little evidence of quality control in the factories in Shenzhen, where about 90 percent of the world’s vaping devices are manufactured. The article warns that “flawed or sloppy manufacturing could account for some of the heavy metals, carcinogens and other dangerous compounds, such as lead, tin and zinc, that have been detected in some e-cigarettes.”  

China in the L.A. Review of Books 

The Los Angeles Review of Books has launched a China Channel on its website, edited by a great team of writers, academics, translators, and bookish China nerds.  

SCMP meets Sinica on October 9

If you’re in New York on October 9, come join me and Kaiser at 6:30 p.m. at the China Institute in downtown Manhattan for a special live Sinica Podcast with Gary Liu, CEO of the South China Morning Post. We’re planning to ask Gary if the South China Morning Post can thrive as a real news organization in troubled times for free expression in Hong Kong.