Policing online content not at odds with speech freedom

By Liu Lulu Source:Global Times Published: 2018/4/10 23:18:40

Four news apps have been temporarily removed from the Android store in China recently as part of efforts to purify the Chinese internet. The regulatory move was immediately interpreted by Western media as Beijing's suppression of freedom of speech. "China maintains tight control over news sources and heavily censors the internet," the Associated Press said.

The New York Times also blamed China for withdrawing contents of underage pregnancy from live-streaming platforms. The paper noted that as China's censors "have taken a harder line on online discourse, media regulators have made targets of celebrity gossip blogs, ranting rappers and more." We advise that the New York Times establish a similar platform to encourage adolescent motherhood to see how the US public reacts.

Underage pregnancy isn't legal in China. Presenting and even recommending teenage mothers on social media platforms may drag young viewers into a self-reinforcing spiral of adverse effects. The crackdown on adolescent motherhood and other inappropriate online contents is an endeavor by the Chinese government to regulate the internet ecosystem.

The West seems to have habituated itself to accusing China's internet regulator of suppressing freedom of speech. Such allegations are unfair. In the internet era, policing online contents is of vital importance to ensure healthy economic, political and societal development of a country.

For instance, unverified reports of Donald Trump's alleged ties with Russian operatives in the 2016 general election have dragged the White House into unprecedented chaos. Rumors and counter-rumors which swept across Kenya's social media platforms ahead of its 2017 presidential election left the country in a precarious situation. Experiences suggest that regulation carries more weight than so-called online freedom, a fact of which Western countries seem to have gradually become convinced.

More ironically, the West, while pointing a critical finger at China, has started to follow Beijing in tightening its grip on the internet. Following the Russiagate investigation, the US Congress proposed the Honest Ads Act bill in late 2017 that would require more transparency in online political advertisements. The bill is seen by many US companies, for instance, Google, as too restrictive. Despite some opposing voices, Facebook said earlier that it would support efforts to disclose how political advertisements are targeted and how much they cost.

As society develops, online regulation has gradually become a must in both China and Western countries. As a pioneer in internet regulation, China earlier ordered that all businesses operating within the country need to properly register with the authorities and those hosting unregistered VPN apps will face penalties. The US and other Western countries can draw from this experience and learn from China in this regard.

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