They Said, We Said: Internet Giant Sina Punished for Pornography

Sina, the Chinese Internet company that controls popular Twitter-esque site Sina Weibo, recently got two of its online publication and distribution licenses stripped by the government for disseminating pornographic content.  According to CCTV (China's central government-run television company), more than 20 novels were found on Sina that had  淫秽色情内容  (obscene and erotic content).  Therefore, following China's National Anti-pornography and Illegal Publications policy, Beijing's Bureau of Culture and Public Security Bureau combined forces to revoke Sina’s distribution licenses. According to CCTV, the captain of the Internet Enforcement squadron reported that one of the novels, titled Beautiful Lady of the Mountain Village 㠊山村美娇娘㠋, received more than 630,000 hits and accrued more than 40,000RMB in illegal earnings. Another novel, roughly translated as Trading Power for Sex 㠊权色交易㠋, got more than 1.8 million hits and earned around 160,000RMB. CCTV says that in sum, these 20-plus novels have generated over 500,000RMB, with many of their readers being minors.  CCTV also says there are four video programs on Sina that they list as obscene.


(Photo credit: Julien GONG Min)

Sina has already made a public statement on Weibo apologizing for the incidents and has removed all pornographic material. In addition to having the two licenses removed, CCTV says that Sina will also be issued a large fine.  The Public Security Bureau also apprehended the Sina employees responsible for disseminating the materials. The article concludes that the Anti-Pornography and Illegal Publication Bureau will expand its aggressive campaign by opening more cases, showing that no branch is too high and no company is above the law.

The Wall Street Journal followed up with an article that highlighted the significance of Sina being targeted.  According to Xinhua, the Cleaning the Web 2014  campaign thus far has shut down 110 websites and 3,300 social media accounts on Weibo and WeChat.  This particular campaign has been more extensive than prior ones not only because of the volume of investigations, but also because of the prominence of the accused parties.

Big companies such as Sina were previously not targeted directly by anti-pornography campaigns, though they have been the target of anti-rumor campaigns since the summer of 2013.  The current news comes at a particularly inauspicious time for Sina, given their debut on the NASDAQ only two weeks ago.  Despite the efforts of the Chinese government and the Great Firewall of China, lewd content is surprisingly prevalent on the Chinese internet and can be found  in one way or another on most web portals.  It is common to be bombarded with images of thinly veiled bosoms on the right side of your screen while reading a news article on Sina, iFeng, Sohu, or any number of news portals.  Of course, placing titillating imagery on one's website to generate clicks and traffic is standard procedure throughout the Internet, no matter the country. Therefore, one must wonder why Sina specifically is being publicly targeted in the anti-pornography campaign.  Is it to set an example for the rest of the “big and little fish” on the Internet, or are there other motivations?  Is the anti-pornography campaign just an excuse to remove two of Sina's important distribution and publication licenses for other reasons?  In the grand scheme of things, the punishment seems to be out of sync with the size of the offense.  20 novels and 4 TV programs doesn't seem to be particularly significant for a major website, though the level of perversity for these materials is unknown.  It is clear that the national government is indeed expanding its web campaign against indecency. Whether there are politically “indecent” proposals behind closed doors  remains to be seen.  Much like the anti-gossip campaign of last year, the anti-pornography campaign is likely another political tool for the government to regain control of web media.

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Marika Heller

is a second-year MPIA student at IRPS with International Economics, Management, and China concentrations and Editor-in-Chief of the China Focus blog. She holds a B.A. in Political Science with a minor in Chinese from Middlebury College, and an M.A. in International Policy Studies from the Monterey Institute. She lived in Chengdu, China for two and a half years where she worked at a sustainable development NGO doing micro-finance and earthquake relief, and also at an international marketing and entertainment company.

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