Baidu has been ordered to clean up its online discussion forums, Beijing’s internet regulator said on Monday.

The forums were found to be “repeatedly spreading rumours, disrupting social order, harming the stability of society, and distributing obscene, pornographic, gambling, and violent content,” the municipal Cyberspace Administration said in an article on its official WeChat channel. Tieba is comparable to the English-language discussion site Reddit.

Baidu Tieba. Photo: Screenshot.

It was found to have “severely violated” rules, including Article 19 of the Provisions for the Administration of Internet News Information Services and Article 15 of the Measures for the Administration of Internet Information Services.

The former restricts service providers from publishing and sending content including that which leaks state secrets, subverts the regime, spreads rumours, harms the stability of society, incites illegal assembly, or is obscene, pornographic, promotes gambling, or violent. The latter states that service providers must not produce, assist in the production of, issue, or broadcast such content.

‘Clean up’ content

Tieba managers were summoned by officials from the Beijing Cyberspace Administration and ordered to “comprehensively clean up harmful content” and shut down accounts and forums which violated rules. The service was ordered to make the changes within a set time, though the regulator did not specify a deadline.

The Cyberspace Administration of Beijing has commenced “administrative law enforcement procedures,” and is investigating and dealing with the matter, it said.

The meeting follows another meeting on Sunday when the executive editor of Baidu was summoned. The authority “severely criticised and ordered a rectification” of Tieba, citing the same regulations.

Tieba – or Post Bar – is advertised as the world’s largest Chinese communication platform. It hosts over 21.2 million discussion groups, with topics ranging from anime and celebrities to current events and politics.

Photo: Flickr/Jon Russell.

Baidu, the country’s largest search engine, came under fire in January last year for selling its Tieba health forums to private companies. The practice allowed discussion boards to be moderated by third parties, turning them into advertising spaces for commercial services.

In April, Baidu was slammed for its role in the death of a student who purchased a cancer treatment promoted on its search service. It subsequently faced public anger over its practice of allowing medical institutions to pay to be featured in search results.

It was investigated by Chinese authorities in May and told by authorities to clean up its medical advertising practises. The company said last July that it had stopped selling the rights to moderate Tieba forums in July.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.