China’s cybersecurity crackdown: online platforms combat harmful content, privacy violations
Published: Nov 22, 2023 12:39 AM Updated: Nov 22, 2023 12:35 AM
Photo: Screenshot of the micro-drama

Photo: Screenshot of the micro-drama "Go Queen Go" from the website

On Tuesday, WeChat and Chinese short video platform Kuaishou announced the removal of the micro-drama series "Go Queen Go" from their platforms for its portrayal of "extreme revenge tactics" and "a distorted moral perspective," contributing to "negative value orientations."

The move follows a series of recent crackdowns by major short-video platforms in China, including Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, aimed at curbing non-compliant and low-quality content.

On Friday, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the country's cyberspace regulator, initiated a one-month nationwide campaign to clean up online content. The campaign targets seven key areas, including combating the "human flesh search," also known as doxing, phenomenon, addressing malicious defamation during social events, and curbing the instigation of online extreme emotions.

The term "human flesh search," refers to the illicit use of hacking tools to obtain comprehensive personal information, including but not limited to ID numbers, social security numbers, bank account details, and personal identification photos of an individual and their family.

On the same day, domestic video platform Bilibili disclosed a "human flesh search" case involving the illicit exposure of personal data and information through unauthorized means.

According to the announcement, the platform received reports from multiple content creators about an organized group operating on foreign platforms, systematically inciting users to conduct doxing against these creators within the Bilibili community.

This group not only publicly disclosed personal information about them online, but also engaged in a series of illegal activities, including harassing phone calls, online bullying attacks, and baseless malicious reports.

The case was found to span 18 provinces and cities, involving over 40 individuals. The key perpetrators were identified as minors, with the surname initials of L and C.

L, due to the severity of the offenses, has been placed under a 10-day administrative detention, with the violation permanently recorded in his personal file.

While C received stern criticism and education from law enforcement authorities in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Law of the People's Republic of China on Penalties for Administration of Public Security, the announcement said.

"If the personal information of citizens is disclosed to specific individuals or made public through internet platforms, such behavior constitutes the illegal provision of personal information of citizens, violating the provisions of the Criminal Law," Fan Xiaoling, a Beijing-based lawyer, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

"If the quantity of information provided or disclosed meets the criteria for initiating criminal proceedings, the individual can be held criminally responsible for the crime of infringing on the personal information of citizens," Fan added.

According to Fan, if websites or communication groups are established for the purpose of engaging in illegal activities such as acquiring, selling, or providing personal information of citizens, and the circumstances are severe, it also violates the provisions of the Criminal Law. In such cases, individuals can be convicted and punished for the crime of illegal use of information networks.

This case has gone viral on China's Twitter-like platform Sina Weibo, with the hashtag "Bilibili discloses human flesh search case" being viewed 380 million times and garnering more than 7,500 comments as of Tuesday night.

Some Weibo users have expressed praise for Bilibili's actions, stating that zero tolerance should be shown toward such behavior. Some netizens mentioned that being a minor should not be an excuse. Even if someone is underage, they should still face legal consequences if they engage in illegal activities.

This case has brought attention to previous reports about several celebrities, including Zhang Xinyu, Zhao Lusi, Wang Yibo, and others, who have reportedly fallen victim to "human flesh searches," with their ID cards, phone numbers, and social security information exposed.

On September 4, Chinese host Yang Di revealed on Weibo that he has had a similar experience, which resulted in the leakage of his personal information and incessant harassing phone calls, prompting him to change his phone number.

In response to the rising menace of online violence, the Supreme People's Court, the Supreme People's Procuratorate, and the Ministry of Public Security jointly issued guidance in September, emphasizing the consequences for illegally collecting and disseminating citizens' personal information.