China launches operation to clean up Internet content involving minors

China's Internet regulator yesterday announced that it has censured and fined several platforms as part of efforts to clean up content involving minors.

Dubbed Operation Fresh Summer Holidays Internet Cleanup, the move by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) follows a series of actions in recent months as Beijing tightens its grip on the nation's tech giants. Those fined in yesterday's announcement included social media giant QQ, e-commerce site Taobao and social media app Xiaohongshu.

The CAC said in a statement that the move was aimed at resolving seven "prominent online problems" that were affecting the country's youth. Among the problems were: minors appearing on live streams to promote extravagance; pornographic and violent content; cartoons or animation that promote bad behaviour; forums that encourage toxic behaviour such as attacking others and suicide; and the promotion of fan culture.

The various platforms have been given a deadline to take down content that violates the guidelines, and have also been fined. The amount was not stated and it is unclear how long the platforms have to remove the content.

"During the period of the operation, the punishment for violations of laws and regulations will increase, and the attitude of 'zero tolerance' will be maintained for those who infringe upon the legitimate rights and interests of minors," said a CAC spokesman.

China's Internet platforms have come under increased scrutiny in recent months. Late last year, guidelines were issued on what can be promoted via live streaming, banning the sales of counterfeit products. The medium has become a popular way of selling products on China's multiple e-commerce platforms, a hybrid of online shopping and infomercials. Many live streamers, however, gained Internet fame by offering an unvarnished look into their daily lives, or even those of their children.

Last August, the parents of a three-year-old girl in Guangzhou gained notoriety after using their daughter in "mukbang" videos - streams where people eat large quantities of food while interacting with their audience. The parents had started the account when their daughter, Peiqi, was just two and weighed about 15kg. By the time they made headlines a year and 550,000 followers later, the child weighed 35kg, had trouble walking and using the bathroom on her own, and frequently cried when presented with more food.

After making headlines, the account was deleted and the authorities began investigating the parents. It is not known if they have faced any legal repercussions.

There are also concerns about the negative impact social media can have on youth. In recent months, fan culture has come under attack after a group was shown pouring milk down the drain to access codes at the bottom of the bottle to support their favourite idol in a singing contest. Things took a more sinister turn after pop star Kris Wu, who started out his career as a live streamer, was accused of sexually assaulting a minor.

"It's time to reflect on the era of worshipping streaming stars, especially those that rely more on their social media presence than their actual talent as entertainers," the state-linked tabloid Global Times said yesterday. "This is especially warranted since, in today's age, it is difficult to determine if a star's popularity on social media is real or has been artificially inflated through underhanded marketing schemes."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 22, 2021, with the headline 'China launches operation to clean up Internet content involving minors'. Subscribe