Popular Q&A platform shuts down amid illegal info crackdown

By Li Ruohan Source:Global Times Published: 2016/8/25 18:53:39 Last Updated: 2016/8/26 6:45:59

A host who calls herself "Zhenzhen" talks to her audience during an online live streaming session on May 16, 2016. Photo: CFP

Popular online question-and-answer forum Fenda has been offline for two weeks, sparking speculation about whether this has been caused by censorship as the government has recently taken a harder line on the Internet as the amount of "illegal information" booms along with new products such as live streaming.

All the services provided on Fenda's website, official WeChat account and app have been unavailable since August 10. A statement the company sent to the Global Times on Wednesday says they are "upgrading" their products but they did not explain why this has taken so long or when this "upgrading" process will be completed.

Various sources told news outlet sina.com that the cause of Fenda's closure was the censorship of content on the platform, which might include questions and answers on sensitive issues.

Ji Shisan, founder and CEO of Fenda's parent company Guokr, a popular science website, rejected an interview request from the Global Times on Wednesday.

Fenda allows users to ask questions to celebrities and professionals, for a price ranging from 1 yuan ($0.15) to 20,000 yuan. The answer is delivered in a voice message no longer than 60 seconds.

Around 330,000 professionals and celebrities, including property tycoon Ren Zhiqiang and actress Zhang Ziyi, have answered questions on the platform. Fenda says it has attracted more than 10 million users, including 1 million paying users as of July since launching on May 5.

Unpredictable

Apart from Fenda, new online services such as live streaming platforms have provided new space for illegal content, and the unpredictability of content generated on those platforms also makes Internet censorship difficult.

A total of 12 live streaming platforms, including Douyu TV, 6.cn and Panda TV, received warnings in April for violating regulations banning content that features pornography, violence and other kinds of illegal behavior.

A Douyu host live-streamed himself having sex with a woman in January, causing quite a stir throughout the industry. Another host who works as a driver also live-streamed his conversation with several airline stewardess without their knowledge, and the size of his audience soared from 30,000 to 180,000 when the conversations were aired, the Legal Daily reported on August 12. 

Unlike the previous kinds of information - which mostly consisted of words and pictures posted and written in a more structured way - information generated by users in an instant manner is unpredictable, which makes supervision difficult, Wang Sixin, deputy director of the School of Politics and Law at Communication University of China, told the Global Times via phone on Wednesday.

He explained that though current technology can identify key information in voice messages and pictures, it's almost impossible to fully supervise all the platforms and their content.

In addition, some voice messages are hard to supervise, such as those featuring people speaking with heavy accents or in local dialects, Zhu Wei, deputy director of the Research Center of Law of Communication at the China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Under such circumstances, solutions to curb the flooding of information that is illegal or "harmful" to society should come from not only the government but also the market, as the prosperity of those platforms results from the booming sharing economy, said experts.

Traceable

Though the unpredictability of the content of new online models makes supervision difficult, the increasing traceability of people's online presence is making the crackdown on illegal information more efficient, said Wang.

China has launched a credit system for both Internet users and companies in many cities including Beijing to record wrongdoing, which can lead to companies losing their business license and users having their accounts shut down, Zhu noted.

Zhu said that a real-name system has been implemented by many platforms.

More than 20 Internet companies, including Baidu, Sina and 6 Rooms signed self-disciplinary agreements in April that require performers to register their real names, news outlet ifeng.com reported.

Separately, the Ministry of Culture issued a guideline in April stipulating that live-streaming performers will now be held accountable for any content that is deemed inappropriate, and serious violators will be blacklisted nationwide.

The guidelines also require live-streaming websites to employ supervisors to monitor online performances and cut off broadcasts if they feature prohibited activities.


Newspaper headline: Left without answers


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