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China's Sina Weibo Hires 1,000 Supervisors to Censor ‘Harmful Content'—Including Women's Legs

Photos like this could now be labeled “pornographic” by Weibo's supervisors. Photo by dimitrisvetsikas via Pixabay (CC0)

Chinese tech giant Sina Weibo has recruited 1,000 Weibo supervisors to report on “pornographic, illegal and harmful content” after China's Cyberspace Administration investigated and fined Weibo for failing to purge banned content from its social media platform.

The policy is already having adverse effects on users, particularly young women, whose photos are being labeled “pornographic” if they show a woman's leg, abdomen or cleavage. Users who are found to violate the rules may have their “social credit” scores reduced, which can limit to their ability to use the platform.

The investigation of Tencent, Baidu and Sina Weibo

The Cyberspace Administration's Beijing and Guangdong offices launched a comprehensive investigation into Chinese internet companies Tencent, Baidu and Sina Weibo on 11 August 2017, charging that their social media platforms had violated newly passed Cybersecurity Law and were not adequately managing information published by their users.

After one month of investigation, the authorities concluded on 25 September that the three had violated Article 47 of the Cybersecurity Law by hosting “information of violence and terror, false rumors, pornography, and other information that jeopardizes national security, public safety, and social order.”

Article 47 of the Cybersecurity Law requires network operators to effectively manage content published by users. In contrast to major technology companies in the United States, such as Facebook and Google, these Chinese internet giants are now obligated to proactively censor illegal content and report it to the authorities.

Accordingly, the three companies were given the “heaviest fine” based on Article 68, which states the maximum fine is up to RMB 500,000 yuan (approximately 76,000 US dollars).

On 30 September, three days after the authorities’ fined Sina Weibo for violating the Cybersecurity Law, the company posted a notice on its official account inviting users to apply to become one of 1,000 “Weibo supervisors” — a team under the supervision of the Cyberspace Administration:

为落实企业主体责任,强化网民监督,净化微博社区环境,有效处置微博上的涉黄、违法及有害信息。在北京市网信办的指导下,微博专门建立了社区监督员机制,面向所有用户公开招募1000名微博监督员。微博监督员通过特殊的举报机制针对微博上的涉黄、违法及有害信息进行举报处理,站方将根据举报统计情况向合格的微博监督员按月发放网费补贴,并赠送微博会员。同时我们对每月有效举报数量最多的微博监督员给予物质奖励,奖品包括苹果手机、国产手机或笔记本电脑等。

To enact corporate responsibility, motivate netizens to actively monitor [online content], clean up the Weibo community environment and handle the pornographic and harmful information on Weibo, under the supervision of the Beijing Cyberspace Administration, Weibo is launching a community supervisor system and recruiting 1,000 supervisors from the community. The Weibo supervisors will report on pornographic, illegal and harmful information circulating on Weibo through a special reporting channel. The site will release monthly subsidies [to compensate supervisors for their work and internet connection cost] based on these statistics. At the same time, those who file the most reports will receive special gifts, including iPhones, local brand cell phones or notebook computers.

While there are many pro-government comments supporting Weibo’s decision, one can still find a number of critiques online, including the following:

发动群众斗群众的第二弹!有害怎么认定?这些人的资质如何考核?最终裁决谁来做?与之前的社区管理员有什么区别?删贴和销号之间什么关系?各是什么规则?这个机制运行的前提是公开透明细化和可执行的处罚条款!

This is another mobilization of the masses against the masses. How do they define harmful? How do they make sure these people are qualified to do the content review? Who makes the final call [for censorship]? What is the difference between the “Weibo supervisors” and the community manager [a system set up a few years ago for community reporting]? What is the relationship between deleting a post and deleting an account? Is there any rule? Without openly and transparently stating rules, or specifying the operation and consequences of violating content rules, how can you kickstart the system?

不评论,第一你是个平台,对于不当的东西你咋定标准,开放是你的定位,你们是招城管吧,要是有违法行为有法院,有律师

No comment. As a platform, how can you set up standards for inappropriate content? Your principle should be open platform. Doesn’t this look like open recruitment of Chengguan [city management officers responsible for sanitation and environment who are notorious for their abusive use of power]? If there is any illegal content, we have courts and lawyers [to decide this].

Ordinary photos of young women are now labeled as ‘pornographic’

Weibo supervisors have been reporting content violations for more than a week now, and a group of female users are already feeling its effects.

One Weibo user explained the system and impact in detail:

我来总结一下自从微博推出了微博监督员,他们对我的朋友和对我的朋友圈造成了什么影响,起码这关系着很多可爱的小姐姐。

最近很多小姐姐可能会莫名其妙收到一条管理员扣分的信息,有时候可能只是自己发的自拍、自己的宠物、自己的马甲线、自己的腿、甚至一些看的很好看的cos泳装照片也惨遭举报。这些再也不能更日常的照片直接就会被扣上色情的帽子而被扣2分的消息,甚至很多小姐姐一直都是80分,因为这两天的举报直接就被扣成40分,甚至更低。 而当你微博被扣成40分以下你的微博不能被关注不能被转发,也就是失去了微博最起码的乐趣。

Let me sum up the impact of Weibo supervisors on my friends and my friends’ circles. They have affected many cute girls.

Recently, many cute girls probably have received a message from a Weibo administrator notifying them that their scores will be reduced because someone has reported their photos showing their legs, cleavage, sexy swimwear. In the past, these were treated as ordinary photos. Now that they are labelled as pornographic, two points are taken away from the user account for each photo. Some of the cute girls who had always maintained an 80 score have been reduced to 40 in the past few days, some even lower. If your Weibo score has been reduced to lower than 40, no one can follow you and your post cannot be shared, which means all the fun has vanished.

According to the content deletion notification, when a supervisor files a report, the content in question is submitted to a company administrator, who reviews and if necessary deletes the content and sends a notification to the user. The notification also says that the user can appeal for another review.

The Weibo credit system was first introduced in September 2013 to crack down on the spread of “rumors” or information coming from independent sources not approved by the state. Each Weibo user begins with a social credit score of 80. They will lose five credits if a post of theirs is flagged as a rumor and deleted. If the user’s credit score is lower than 40, the person’s content cannot be shared and will not appear on public timelines. When a person's credit score drops to zero, their account is suspended.

The poster continued their explanation of how and why the supervisors were specifically targeting women:

收到这么多举报都是因为微博奸督员有每个月的指标,每个月最少举报200条,当每个月达成了指标就会给你发放200元的网费,也就是说举报一条最少有1元钱的收入。之后还会根据举报次数的排名进行手机实物的奖励。EXM??没有惩罚选项???一方为了钱就可以随意的举报,让另一群用户体验变得极差!甚至想卸载软件 。

想想以后首页看不到奶子,看不到屁股,看不到腿,看不到泳衣,连美**都看不到。还会幸福吗,还会玩微博吗?当然这里我指的并不是色.情方面的,而是由而体现的一种美。

男性用户一般不会被扣分,而女性用户发自拍、发腿、连日常晒一下自己减肥成功后腰的照片被举报扣分,这样真的好吗。女孩子在这种青春的年龄段难道不应该记录下自己的美吗?

有些女孩子为了还原昨天我看到一个最可恨的,有一个非常美的小姐姐出的泳衣cos,没有一丝的色情感。摄影拍的棒,后期色调也非常的棒,正常来讲这条泳衣转发1000+是没有问题的,可是被举报了,不能在微博发了,发了还是被举报,拍一个cos的正片真的不容易,付出的时间、付出的金钱、付出了青春、还有自己的那么多的努力,去练习怎么样让自己的表情更加还原喜欢的角色,一套正片起码摄影+服装+后期便宜了也要小1000块。做了这么多努力就是想发到微博让别人去夸夸自己,去认可自己。你监督员就为了1块钱的小纸条否认了她的所有。这样真的很过分。

The reason why so many posts are reported is that each supervisor has been given a specific quota every month. They have to file at least 200 reports in exchange for the RMB 200 subsidy for paying internet fees. This means they receive RMB 1 yuan in exchange for one report. If they excel at filing reports, they will get mobile phones as a bonus. Excuse me? No punishment [for abusing power]??? One party can file a report to make money, while the other party suffers from a poor user experience. Some even want to uninstall the app.

Just imagine, in the future, there will no more sexy bottoms, no more legs, no more swimwear, no more pretty ** [breasts] on the front page timeline, can we still be happy? Will people still hang out on Weibo? What I am saying here is not about pornographic materials, but images that reflect a form of beauty.

Male users are less likely to be reported, while female users’ selfies, leg photos or waist photos that show off the success of their workouts are subjected to reduced scores. Are such practices really good? Shouldn’t girls take photos to record their youth?

Yesterday I came across a swimwear costume video of a pretty lady. The video contains no pornographic element, it was very well taken and the color tuning was fine. Usually such videos can be shared 1,000-plus times without encountering any problems. But now, it was reported and could not be circulated on Weibo. It wasn’t easy to produce that video, it took time, money and a great deal of effort in performing the role. The shooting, costume and production cost at least RMB 1,000. Upon spending all these efforts, she wanted to others to praise her, to gain recognition. Now the supervisors have denied everything that she had done for just RMB 1 yuan. This is outrageous.

The power of a Weibo supervisor

The Weibo supervisor regulation also encourages users to file complaints against supervisors abusing their power. Some have started filing complaints or publicly questioned the qualifications of the supervisors.

Another Weibo user started to collect content deletion notifications and shared his observation on Weibo. Below is one of the observations that he made:

#微博监督员# 目前我见到的删帖大概有四种情况,图一其他用户举报,需要十个人举报,审核后删除,图二,监督员举报,一个人就受理审核和删除,图三,网警删除,图四,系统检测,删除者不明。从类型看,网警主要偏向删维稳相关,其他用户和监督员偏向删除色情。

#Weibo Supervisors# I have seen four types of content deletion.

First, if the complaint was filed by other Weibo users, it would take 10 complaints to kickstart the review process. The post would be deleted upon review.

Second, if the report was filed by a Weibo supervisor, one report will trigger the review and deletion process.

Third, a cyber police officer can delete the content directly.

Fourth, automatic deletion, not sure who is in responsible.

Judging from the content, cyber police officers mainly delete politically sensitive content. Other users and Weibo supervisors mainly report on pornographic content.

According to these observations, Weibo supervisors have more authority than online civilization volunteers who have been serving the censorship machine by “spreading positive energy” and reporting on harmful content via the Weibo community system since 2015.

On Twitter, some Chinese users are comparing Weibo supervisors to online Red Guards, who target netizens said to be “politically incorrect.” They also believe that the supervisor system will trigger another round of migration to overseas social media.

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