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China cracks down on ‘self-media’ accounts, deleting 1.4 million social media posts


China’s cyberspace regulator said 1.4 million social media posts had been taken down after a two-month investigation into alleged disinformation, illegal profiteering and impersonation of government officials, among other “obvious problems”.

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said in a statement on Friday that it closed 67,000 social media accounts and deleted hundreds of thousands of posts between March 10 and May 22 as part of a broader “correction” campaign.

Since 2021, China has targeted billions of social media accounts in an effort to “clean up” its cyberspace and make it easier for authorities to control.

The latest crackdown has targeted accounts on popular Chinese social media apps including WeChat, Douyin and Weibo that fall under the category of “self-media,” a term broadly referring to accounts that post news and information but are not run by the government or state-sanctioned.

Beijing frequently arrests accounts of citizens and observers for publishing or sharing factual information considered sensitive or critical of the Communist Party, government or military, especially when such information is widely circulated.

Of the 67,000 accounts permanently closed, nearly 8,000 were deleted for “spreading fake news, rumors, and harmful information,” according to the CAC.

About 930,000 other accounts received less severe penalties, from deleting all followers to suspending or revoking their profit-making privileges.

In a separate crackdown, the regulator recently shut down more than 100,000 accounts allegedly misrepresenting news broadcasters and media agencies to counter the rise of fake news coverage online with the help of artificial intelligence technologies.

The Counter-Terrorism Committee said Friday that its latest campaign targeted nearly 13,000 fake military accounts with names such as “China Red Army Command,” “China Counter-Terrorism Force,” and “Strategic Missile Force.”

About 25,000 other accounts were targeted for impersonating public institutions, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state-run research institutes.

Nearly 187,000 have been sanctioned for impersonating news media companies, while more than 430,000 are alleged to have provided career advice or educational services without having the relevant professional qualifications.

About 45,000 accounts have been closed for “inflating hot issues, influence-chasing, and illegal monetization.”

The regulator said it had “actively coordinated with public security, market supervision and other departments to deliver a strong blow and rectify the illegal ‘self-information'”.

She added, “At the same time, (we) also call on the majority of netizens to actively participate in monitoring and reporting (illegal self-media), providing evidence… and jointly maintaining a clean cyberspace.”

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.