Chinese state newspaper People’s Daily has renewed calls for internet platforms to join forces with relevant government departments to clean up fake online traffic, a challenge that tech companies have long struggled with.
An opinion piece published on Wednesday accused “water armies” – internet accounts bought to generate traffic – of disrupting fair competition and eroding social trust in cyberspace.
“Platforms that are flooded by fake traffic are full of low-quality content while high-quality content is submerged,” the article said
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It said online platforms must work hand in hand with authorities, who should mete out timely punishment according to the law. While internet platforms still hold the main responsibility in the fight against fake traffic, according to the article, courts are recommended to issue guiding cases, judicial interpretations and law amendments to help.
Calls from state media and regulators to rein in inflated traffic are not new – but the opinion piece comes two weeks after the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) introduced new rules governing social media accounts, which included a clause banning users from artificially inflating the number of clicks.
Over the years, the country’s internet watchdog has introduced several regulations aimed at clamping down on fake online traffic. Yet e-commerce companies, social media platforms and other online service providers have struggled with users who jack up traffic to their accounts with fake video views, likes and comments.
Across China’s live-streaming industry, the practice of paying for fake accounts to boost viewership is an “open secret”, according to insiders.
The CAC’s new rules are unlikely to end the problem since enforcement remains a major issue, said Angela Zhang, director of the Centre for Chinese Law at the University of Hong Kong. Online platforms play the primary role in monitoring and regulating fake traffic, she said, but they may not always have sufficient capabilities or incentives to do so.
Still, experts have said widespread fraud not only hurts consumers but also businesses. Last year, companies in China collectively lost an estimated 18 billion yuan (US$2.8 billion) due to fraud in mobile advertising, according to a report published by Tencent Security and Indian mobile marketing firm InMobi. Up to 85 per cent of the cases were related to brand advertising, including fake views for influencers and online shows.
Some internet giants have started to bring lawsuits against companies that inflate traffic on their platforms.
In August, Tencent Holdings won China’s first legal case on fake traffic that relied on the country’s fair competition law. A court in Chongqing awarded the social media and gaming giant 1.2 million yuan in damages, The Paper reported.
Tencent has since won several more litigations against marketing companies that engaged in creating fake traffic and other fraudulent activities on its platforms, such as WeChat.
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