TikTok’s Chinese version Douyin fined for vulgar content as Beijing continues cyberspace crackdown

Tracy Qu
·3-min read

Chinese regulators have continued their efforts to clean up the country’s cyberspace by punishing the country’s biggest short video platform Douyin after an investigation found it was spreading “vulgar information”.

Douyin, owned by Chinese tech giant ByteDance which also operates TikTok, was fined the maximum penalty for spreading “obscene, pornographic and vulgar information”, the National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications said in a statement on Friday.

“Some influencers on Douyin exhibit behaviour involving sexual provocation and hints, smoking [while live-streaming], vulgar language … Some influencers and users posted WeChat accounts and QR codes to guide others to other platforms to conduct activities that violate law and regulations,” the statement said.

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The regulator did not specify the amount of the fine but according to a source familiar with the case, the fine was only “tens of thousands of yuan”.

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“The amount is tiny for a big company like ByteDance, but the message is clear that [the company] has to toe the line,” said the source, who requested anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.

Regulators said they received more than 900 reports related to pornographic and vulgar content on Douyin last year.

ByteDance did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Under President Xi Jinping, the ruling Chinese Communist Party has tightened its grip on the internet and censored content it deems inappropriate, including pornography, gambling, fake news and political dissent. Last month, Chinese regulators ordered video platform Bilibili to “rectify itself in a period of two weeks” and “comprehensively investigate” content such as pornography and vulgar material that violated laws and regulations.

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Like most Chinese content platforms that must navigate China’s heavily censored internet environment, ByteDance has an in-house content moderation team - which has grown to more than 20,000 people at the Beijing-based company, according to tech media LatePost.

Douyin regularly reports the progress of its content moderation operations. For example, in November it reported removing nearly 684,000 accounts due to their promotion of illegal or substandard products and took down 8,700 accounts accused of promoting erotic, vulgar and fraudulent content during live-streaming.

Still, as the latest move shows, Douyin cannot escape stricter scrutiny from the Cyberspace Administration of China, which in December took down 105 apps, including popular travel app TripAdvisor, for spreading “obscene, pornographic, violent and other illegal” online content, including services such as gambling and prostitution.

In the third quarter of 2020, the cyberspace watchdog closed nearly 9,000 “illegal websites” and fined major platforms such as Weibo, Douban, Sohu and NetEase Music for behaviour such as “not having fulfilled the obligation to manage information posted by users”.

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