China's Internet watchdog starts online comments cleanup

By Ding Xuezhen Source:Global Times Published: 2016/6/23 1:03:00

Stricter keyword filtering could be applied: expert

China's top Internet watchdog on Tuesday announced plans to clean up online comment sections, a move observers stressed is necessary despite concerns about how it will affect Net users' right to free expression.

According to the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), efforts will focus on cleaning up the comments sections of websites by removing harmful content that violates the "seven bottom lines" - including the socialist system, national interests and the legitimate rights and interests of citizens - and laws and regulations like Measures on the Administration of Internet Information Service.

Malicious Internet comments disturb the order of digital communications and damage "public opinion ecology," repulsing the public and underscoring the necessity for an overhaul, Ren Xianliang, deputy head of the CAC told representatives of both Party-run and commercial news media - including senior executives from popular news portals such as Tencent and NetEase - on Tuesday.

Internet media outlets should shoulder their due social responsibilities rather than blindly pursuing a higher number of clicks on their websites, Ren stressed, urging them to enhance self-disciplined management of online comments.

An easily accessible channel to accept Net users' reports of harmful content should be made and a healthy and positive Internet culture should be promoted, the CAC added.

"Such a regulation campaign is necessary, as a large number of online comments containing spam ads and personal abuse are flooding the Internet," Zhu Wei, deputy director of the Communications Law Research Center at China University of Political Science and Law, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

Zhu noted that stricter keyword filtering rules might be applied to webpage comments sections, as Net users often use alternative expressions such as homophones to bypass the current regulation system.

Last year's real-name registration requirement has made the new regulation feasible, as the authorities can now find out who created any harmful comment, Zhu added.

In February 2015, the CAC announced regulations requiring those who use platforms that provide information exchange services - such as microblogs, instant messaging services and online discussion forums - to register on those platforms using their real names.

However, Qin An, director of the China Institute for Cyberspace Strategy, told the Global Times that, "Net users' rights of expression might be to some extent affected," as online comments are sometimes deleted "indiscriminately."

It is paramount to publish detailed criteria for the deletion of online comments according to relevant laws and regulations, Qin stressed, adding that the regulation of online information should be carried out in a way that "will not discourage the public from participating in political discussion."

Commenting on well-meaning critical comments raised on the Internet at a symposium on cyber security and informatization in April, President Xi Jinping said, "We will not only welcome them, but also carefully study them for future reference," the Xinhua News Agency reported.

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