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Weibo Fined for not Carrying Out Enough Censorship

Jonathan Walker
Jonathan loves talking politics, economics and philosophy. He carries unique perspectives on everything making him a rather odd mix of liberal-conservative with a streak of independent Austrian thought.
Published: December 15, 2021
China’s laws against freedom of expression basically risk classifying everyday people as potential criminals.(Image: Screenshot / YouTube)

China’s Twitter equivalent microblogging platform Weibo has been fined by the Chinese regime. The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) imposed a three-million yuan (US$471,165) fine on the social media network for posting “information forbidden by law and regulations,” meaning that it did not censor to the extent the communist regime wanted.

The CAC did not exactly specify what the forbidden information was. The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post (SCMP) speculated that the “information forbidden by law” could be related to tennis star Peng Shuai who had disappeared from public eyes after accusing former vice-premier Zhang Gaoli of sexual assault. Though Peng made a few appearances later on, experts worry that she is being pressured by the regime to act in accordance with party interests.

Peng had leveled the accusation against Zhang in a post on Weibo. Though the post was deleted within a few minutes, many users had already taken a screenshot that eventually spread across the internet. The CCP censors deleted her name from Chinese websites, blocked the broadcast of Western media that mentioned her name, and blocked online searches that looked her up.

While announcing the fine, the CAC also stated that it has fined the social media platform 44 times this year as of November, with the total fines coming in at 14.3 million yuan ($2.25 million). 

Those fines, however, amount to a warning for the social media giant, which makes billions of yuan in annual revenue. 

In its response, Weibo said that it “sincerely accepts” the criticism leveled against it by the CAC and promised to improve its regulatory capabilities on the platform. Weibo also committed to cleaning up softcore pornography as well as crackdown on “malicious marketing” activities.

Just a few weeks back, CAC had fined another Chinese platform “Douban,” a site that discusses popular culture and movies. Douban was fined $235,000 for “unlawful release of information.” Like Weibo, CAC did not exactly specify any further details. 

In an interview with CNN, Eric Liu, an analyst at China Digital Times, a US-based news website tracking censorship in China, said that the Chinese Communist Party announced penalties against Weibo and Douban as a signal that such harsher punishment could become a regular occurrence.

Between 2011 and 2013, Liu worked as a content censor at Weibo during which time he compiled over 800 files of censorship orders the government had issued to the platform. Now, things are a bit tougher, Liu states. It is “censorship of the censorship,” with the censors also being watched.

“When the network traffic increases, the pressure on censorship is also mounting. Within the Great Firewall, everybody is facing stricter and stricter censorship — it’s like inflation… Censorship is expanding everywhere, which means companies need to hire more people,” Liu said.