China’s top Web firms pledge to fight “harmful information” online, following coup rumors

China’s top Web firms pledge to fight “harmful information” online, following coup ...

Three of China’s most influential Internet companies — Baidu, Sina and Tencent — have vowed to better manage their online platforms more carefully against rumors in the wake of widespread political speculation, according to an AFP report.

Heightened rumors of a coup last month saw the Chinese government take action, closing a number of websites, making arrests and, most notably, suspending the comment feature on the country’s ‘Weibo’ services for four days. Now, the companies have gone public with their intention to work harder to battle ‘false information’ following the ousting of popular Communist Party politician Bo Xilai.

In comments that appeared on a state television broadcast last night, each of the firms — which run a range of services including search, gaming, microblogs and more — have pledged to “firmly support and cooperate with relevant government departments in cracking down and probing web rumours.”

Furthermore, Tencent’s chief administration officer Chen Yidan is reported to have admitted that the company, and other online services, “must shoulder social responsibility, strengthen supervision of harmful information and adopt effective measures.”

The pledge comes as both Tencent Weibo and Sina Weibo have so far failed to implement a ‘real-name’ verification rule aimed at cutting down on anonymous usage of the two Twitter-like services. Users can still adopt Web pseudonyms but they must validate their accounts using official documents that prove their identity, or via their phone number, which requires ID before buying.

The regulation was scheduled to come into action on March 17 but, thus far, many Chinese microbloggers are still able to post to without validating their identity.

Given the pledges from Sina and Tencent, both of which run Weibos with more than 250 million registered members each, stiffer application of real-names seems likely.

The services already filter out unsuitable content — which can include rumor and other details likely to sit uncomfortably with the government — from the service and ‘trending topics’ through ‘Rumor Control’ teams and we can expect these to be more active than ever before.

Indeed, to that point, many Weibo users are still finding ways to discuss the Bo-saga whilst avoiding Sina Weibo’s censors. Talk this morning has focused on a fresh twist which saw the politician stripped of all party posts and his wife arrested on murder charges:

This is not the first time that China’s Internet giants have pledged to aid the government’s quest for less speculation online, after an agreement was announced in November. However, given the Weibo comment shut-down, Chinese authorities have shown that it is prepared to dish out punishments to those that cannot control the chat on their services.

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