China’s Internet 'Clean-up' Has Closed Over 13,000 Illegal Websites Since 2015

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While the report says all the websites taken down over the three-year span were illegal, it provided few other details about the sites taken down.

A high-level review of how well China is implementing a new cybersecurity law and other regulations pertaining to cyberspace says that authorities have taken down 13,000 illegal websites and barred some 10 million user accounts since 2015.

The numbers were included in a report filed on Dec. 24 (link in Chinese) before the standing committee of China’s National People’s Congress, the country’s top legislative body (although it’s viewed as relatively powerless compared to the Communist Party’s topmost committees). State news service Xinhua reported (link in Chinese) on the numbers the same day.

The report come after a year that saw China deepen its “clean up” of the internet. In 2017, internet users found it became noticeably harder to express views about social or political events, or access foreign websites. Apart from the stepped-up deletion of unwanted posts, and censorship in one-to-one chats, new rules in August said people posting comments online could no longer be anonymous.

While the report says all the websites taken down over the three-year span were illegal—and mentions efforts by authorities’ against pornography—it provided few other details about the sites taken down. Many are likely to wonder whether these illegal websites included, for example, providers of VPN services, which make it possible to skirt the Great Firewall. In recent months, authorities have arrested, convicted, and sentenced people who were running VPN services—just last week a man offering such services on his own website, since taken down, was sentenced to more than five years in prison.

The report said that authorities targeted a series of platforms, such as online forums, blogs, China’s Twitter-esque social media site Weibo, instant messaging tools, and live broadcasts so as to prevent the spread of terrorism, violence, pornography, and “other information.” Authorities also summoned more than 2,200 website operators for interviews.

In 2014, in the midst of another government web clean-up exercise, China’s tech giant Tencent said it had closed 20 million accounts on its messaging app WeChat—5 percent of the app’s total account numbers back then—because those accounts offered prostitution services.

Most governments have some power to take down websites and seize domains in cases where a clear-cut crime is occurring—for example, to combat child pornography, or copyright infringement—but in China’s one-party system that power faces fewer checks and balances. The numbers for sites that come down each year due to government actions, in China or around the world, are rarely available.

The China report also insisted there’s widespread support for China’s approach to policing the internet saying that some 90 percent of respondents in a survey of more than 10,000 people conducted by a state-run newspaper said they supported government efforts in managing the internet, while over 60 percent felt there had been a clear reduction in harmful information online, such as those threatening national security, promoting terrorism and violence.

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