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China's Unprecedented Pressure on the Tiktok App

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Widely used in China but also in the United States and Europe, TikTok falls under new rules that prohibit content considered problematic by the Chinese authorities. Despite its success internationally, TikTok is not immune to Chinese censorship. The China Netcasting Services Association, which represents and manages several hundred media and media companies in China, closely linked to the government, has released new rules banning one hundred ‘inappropriate’ content from online video services. 

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Among them, disguising themselves as a member of the Chinese Communist Party, the ‘promotion of money and hedonism’, or showing sexual scenes or referring to adultery, both being regarded as ‘immoral’. Prohibition, too, to speak of Taiwan or Hong Kong as independent territories. It is not a law strictly speaking. Nevertheless, these rules, published by an entity close to the government, should push the online video services, very popular in China, to reinforce their moderation. This is particularly the case of TikTok, star of the sector, which enjoys a strong influence outside China. 

Pressure on Application Creators 

Owned by the Chinese giant Bytedance, TikTok is an application that allows you to film yourself singing or dancing, in short videos. Last year, it bought another similar service, Musical.ly, for $ 800 million, recovering its essentially American audience. TikTok a social network particularly popular with young Internet users. It claims today more than 500 million users worldwide, including 150 million in China, and the rest abroad. Bytedance is valued at more than $ 75 billion, more than Uber. With success, TikTok was soon confronted with moderation problems , users using the platform to promote hate content or child pornography. Officially, 6000 people take care to moderate the short videos diffused on the application. 

Last summer, Bytedance’s CEO, Zhang Yiming, promised to increase the headcount to 10,000 people, without giving more details on the date of their hiring, or whether this increase only concerned the Chinese market. Nevertheless, the rules imposed by the China Netcasting Services Association specify that the video platforms will be responsible for any ‘problematic’ content published by their users. Reinforcing the pressure on these companies, not just on the Internet.

Asked by the Financial Times, one of the first media outside China to have unveiled the new rules, Bytedance declined to comment. iQiyi, a similar platform owned by giant Baidu, said it would ‘do its best to meet the requirements of the authorities.’ Since last year, China has expanded the area of online censorship a little more, focusing on media that have not been monitored so far and disrupting their activities. It banned for nine months the marketing of new video games, causing the loss of one third of the market value of its national champion Tencent, very present in this sector. A popular user of TikTok was also arrested and jailed for several days after she sang the Chinese anthem in a ‘disrespectful’ way, according to the authorities. Such a stiffening could be a problem in the future, especially for the few Chinese companies that, like TikTok, have managed to expand abroad.

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