Fact Check
Cleaner cyberspace for better business
By Lan Xinzhen  ·  2023-04-07  ·   Source: NO.15 APRIL 13, 2023

When business magnate Elon Musk purchased Twitter for $44 billion in October last year, the deep cuts he made to the social media platform's trust and safety team gave rise to immediate and widespread concerns the platform would become a super-spreader for hate speech and misinformation. The uneven application of Twitter's content moderation policies subsequently became so glaring it led Vanity Fair magazine to describe them in the following month as being "seemingly wholly dependent on what side of the bed Musk wakes up on."

Recently, paid posting has brought similar issues to the fore in China's cyberlandscape. The China Association of Automobile Manufacturers (CAAM) launched an initiative to fight back against this practice on March 24, highlighting the importance of proper online moderation. Fourteen automakers, ranging from established giants FAW Group and Great Wall Motor (GWM) to new electric vehicle manufacturers such as Nio and Xpeng, have joined. The Chief Brand Officers of China's Top 20 Auto Brands, an organization affiliated with the CAAM, will help CAAM members take legal action against companies and their service agents that use paid commentators to discredit them.

Two weeks earlier, GWM announced it would offer rewards worth a total of 10 million yuan ($1.45 million) for information related to paid commentators creating disruptions in the industry. According to GWM, it has since received about 500 tips regarding paid posting, including instances of false information being shared, unprovoked vilification and organized wars of words, found on Douyin, China's TikTok; Toutiao, a popular mobile platform for content creation, aggregation and distribution; microblogging platform Weibo and short-video app Kuaishou.

GWM said it has established a group responsible for collecting evidence and plans to make public the information on improper behaviors it has gathered over the past year.

China's Internet industry is riding high. Statistics from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology show the number of mobile phones in China reached 1.68 billion in 2022, with some users having more than one phone. Blogging and vlogging have become a new profession that is seeing an influx of huge numbers of individuals. However, these social media platforms may become breeding grounds for rumors and misinformation if they fail to abide by ethical codes.

What has happened to the auto industry is only the tip of a potentially massive iceberg. Businesses in all categories are vulnerable, no matter whether they are big or small, international or national. It is an open secret that Internet marketers and influencers are sometimes paid for creating and spreading rumors and by doing so they can also draw huge traffic themselves. Organizers do so to discredit their rivals, or just to increase profits through malicious marketing.

All these have prompted the authorities to undertake a clean-out. The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) launched the latest round of Operation Qinglang on March 1, targeting misinformation and improper content on online platforms. Qinglang is a term that means "clean and bright" and, according to the CAC, one of the focuses of this round is to create a clean online business environment that protects companies' rights.

The Internet should by no means be lawless territory, so information and speeches posted online must be subject to the same ethical and legal standards as those offline. Those who fabricate and spread rumors and throw social order into disarray must be held accountable.

The CAC launched 13 Qinglang campaigns in 2022, deleting more than 54.3 million items of illegal and harmful content and meting out punishments to more than 6.8 million accounts involved in malpractice. Nevertheless, weeds continue to spring up in the cyberwild, and so the campaign must continue year after year.

While improper behaviors are in the process of being brought under control, the rights of netizens and businesses must be well protected so that they can have a better online experience.

Copyedited by G.P. Wilson

Comments to lanxinzhen@cicgamericas.com

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