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In a bold and unprecedented move, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) has meted out stiff penalties on tech giants Tencent, Sina Weibo, and Baidu for being remiss in removing fake news, pornography, and most especially content that threatens social order and fosters ethnic tension.

According to reports, the Saudi government has had more than 400,000 sites blocked. Forums or other sites that comment on religious, political, and social beliefs that do not adhere to the teachings of Islam have been taken down or blocked.

The new laws against ‘threatening’ online content were passed in June this year, but this is the first time the CAC is showing teeth by giving these tech firms the maximum penalty. The CAC hopes the rest of the internet learns its lesson: the new laws are not to be toyed with. The social media platforms reportedly received fines of up to 500,000 yuan, equivalent to nearly US $76,000.

The sites in question were Tieba, popular online forum ran by Baidu; WeChat, a social app ran by Tencent; and Weibo, a microblogging site. Authorities have been taking a close look at their operations since August.

The companies were said to have failed in fulfilling their management duties in filtering out violent, threatening, and pornographic content. However, even while the maximum fines were implemented, it’s still a slap on the wrist for these companies. In 2016, Tencent’s total revenue amounted to $21.9 billion.

China and Internet Censorship Fines Tech Giants

The companies admitted their shortcomings and apologized to the authorities. Baidu, for one, said it would cooperate with the authorities to fix the problem and improve their verification measures to avoid publishing fake news in the future.

At the start of the year, China began a 14-month campaign to clean up its internet by March 31, 2018. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology said this is the perfect opportunity to nip “disorderly development” in the bud.  The new cybersecurity measures boasted stricter data privacy regulations and also listed down penalties and punishment for violators. According to these laws, their government has the right to revoke the licenses and suspend the operation of platforms who fail to comply.

Their rules on censorship include restricting people from posting selfies and other photos that display and show off excessive wealth. This is something people see too much of in the Western world.

The Rest of the World Looks at Internet Control

China isn’t the only place in the world where the internet is being censored. In North Korea, only 4% of the people have access to the world wide web. Burmese authorities restrict access to sites that expose the various atrocities in the government as well, filter e-mails, and remove any other types of communication that opposes government views.

In Cuba, online activity is monitored and can only be accessed at government-run terminals. The authorities have the right to check which sites people view and what keywords they used for searches; some Internet Protocal (IP) addresses are blocked. In addition, only people authorized by the government are allowed to upload content.

Saudi Arabia is a large country but it has always been strict about what people can view and publish. According to reports, the Saudi government has had more than 400,000 sites blocked. Forums or other sites that comment on religious, political, and social beliefs that do not adhere to the teachings of Islam have been taken down or blocked.

Iran’s situation is even more extreme. Before a person can own a blog, he or she must first register with the Ministry of Art and Culture. Obviously, posting views and opinions against the leadership will earn the blogger stiff penalties or even physical torture.

The tension between a censorship-free internet and a government-approved internet is ongoing. Countries are trying a variety of methods to provide a workable internet from which citizens can access news, commerce, and entertainment. Controlling for fraud, fake news, and dishonest practices must be balanced against the benefits that accrue from the free flow of information. Bold action may be required to keep the internet free and positive, linking citizens of the world.

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