Baidu, Sohu caught in China's latest online clean-up drive

Shares in Baidu and Sohu fell after China's cyberspace police ordered both firms to suspend a plethora of news services for a week.
Shares in Baidu and Sohu fell after China's cyberspace police ordered both firms to suspend a plethora of news services for a week.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Cyberspace watchdog starts six-month effort to purge online media of 'vulgar' information

BEIJING • China's cyberspace police have ordered Baidu and Sohu to suspend a plethora of news services for a week, kicking off an online clean-up campaign with two of the country's biggest Internet corporations.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) on Thursday announced it was starting a six-month effort to eradicate "vulgar" information from online media, including messaging services and live-streaming platforms.

The CAC said it summoned executives from both firms and ordered several of Baidu's and Sohu's news and content feeds to suspend updates from Jan 3 to 10 while they root out undesirable content. Shares in both firms fell as the broader market whipsawed after Apple's surprise outlook cut spooked investors.

Neither the firms nor the regulator stipulated exactly why they were being punished, nor what was needed to resume operations. But Beijing has increasingly taken a hard line as China's Internet ecosystem flourishes, instigating crackdowns on video games and social media that have hurt industry leaders such as WeChat operator Tencent and ByteDance.

They represent the most severe digital crackdown in China's history, shuttering services or temporarily forcing them from app stores for spreading everything from crude jokes to banned information.

While one-week bans are unlikely to have a major impact on either Baidu or Sohu, they come at a stressful time with advertising sales slowing as consumers spend less.

The latest crackdown also emphasises the sweep of powers wielded by China's regulators: Everything from pornography and gambling to vulgarity and "spreading unhealthy lifestyles" will be fair game over the next six months. The CAC will "severely investigate and close a number of illegal websites and accounts, effectively curbing harmful information", it said, adding that it was targeting 12 types of "illegal Internet information" in its drive.

Both Sohu and Baidu said on their social media feeds that they would comply and "rectify" the affected services.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 05, 2019, with the headline 'Baidu, Sohu caught in China's latest online clean-up drive'. Print Edition | Subscribe