Douban punished for weak censorship, pulled from app stores

Business & Technology

China's Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is banning Douban from app stores, though its website is still online and existing users can still access the app. This is Douban’s second punishment in 10 days.

ah bei of douban
Ah Bei, founder of Douban. Image from Geekpark.

With a tiny active user base — 10 million compared to Douyin’s 600 million or WeChat’s 1.26 billion — Douban is often referred to as a cultish corner of the internet where hipsters can discuss movies, books, and pop culture. Also: celebrity gossip, feminism, and other topics Beijing wants to scrub away.

Now, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is banning Douban from app stores, along with 105 other apps that had been scolded about misconduct — like excessive data collection — and apparently failed to rectify their behavior.

  • This is Douban’s second punishment in 10 days. On December 1, it was fined 1.5 million yuan ($235,000) for “unlawful release of information.” So far, its website is still online and existing users can still access the app.
  • The agency cited new data laws in their decision, which also affected a karaoke app and a recycling service owned by U.S.-listed ATRenew.

Douban’s censorship has always been relatively lax. It’s in the website’s DNA: In 2009, four years after it launched, founder Āh Běi 阿北 (real name: Yáng Bó 杨勃) said that “we see Douban as a stage, but we never jump onto the stage and say, ‘Look how great I am.’” Now Beijing is grabbing the mic.

  • The company has reportedly been fined 20 times this year, totaling 9 million yuan ($1.41 million). It’s starting to take action, temporarily suspending replies this month while it works on strengthening its censorship.
  • Douban also shut down feminist groups totaling over 1 million members, citing radical political views, and required communities discussing celebrity culture to remove words like “gossip” and “scoop” from their names.

The sexual assault claims by tennis player Péng Shuài 彭帅 against former Vice Premier Zhāng Gāolì 张高丽 is another “sensitive” topic that’s found a home on Douban: Users mixed English and Chinese to refer to the issue and even hid their conversations on the discussion page for a Korean drama, which has since been blocked. In Beijing’s eyes, that’s plenty reason for a shutdown.

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