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China fines tech company NetEase for not censoring comments enough

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NetEase, a China-based tech firm, has been fined and ordered to suspend its news platform’s comments feature for allowing comments and views deemed inappropriate by the government. The censorship is justifiable under a new internet censorship law that took effect in March.

Internet censorship by the Chinese government continues to get worse. A law that was passed in December last year, which took effect in March, gave the government more power to crack down on content that goes against the public interest. The legislation also puts the pressure of content moderation not only on websites but also on users, content creators, and even service providers.

According to the law, online content should be inspiring, positive, and free of rumors. Therefore, the law prevents content that could harm national interests, spread falsehoods, and disrupt the social and economic order. Violation of the law carries legal consequences such as fines.

The latest to suffer the consequences of violating the law is NetEase, a tech firm with a news platform. A statement published by the Beijing Internet Information Office said that NetEase allowed readers to post comments that the internet watchdog deemed to be “in violation of laws and regulations or relevant rules.”

The internet watchdog summoned representatives from the company and told them to remove the “inappropriate” comments and discipline whoever allowed the comments to be published.

Additionally, the company was fined and instructed to remove the comments feature for a week, from October 10 to October 17.

The state-run internet censorship organization’s statement did not provide more information on the comments that were flagged as inappropriate. The fine amount was also not specified. NetEase apologized and promised to investigate the issue.

The strict internet censorship laws discourage people from commenting on matters of public interests, according to Yik Chan Chin, a media and communications lecturer at the Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University in Suzhou.

“The lack of transparency means few people actually know what part of their comments might lead to their posts being deleted or their accounts shut down,” Chin said.

Another consequence of the dystopian internet censorship laws, according to Chin, is people reporting content because they disagree with it, not because it is offensive.

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