Mainland news aggregator Jinri Toutiao is hiring 2,000 content reviewers, with members of the Communist Party enjoying priority, after China’s internet regulator cracked down on its content.

Jinri Toutiao, which means Today’s Headlines, is a customised feed reader that provides content to readers based on their interests using data and recommendation algorithms. Last week, the country’s top internet regulator accused the news app of spreading pornographic content.

Toutiao headquarters. Photo: Beijing Bytedance.

The Cyberspace Administration said in a notice that Toutiao had illegally distributed news content without having obtained qualifications to do so from the authorities. It added that it was also concerned about the issue of “clickbait” on the app.

The regulator’s order led to Toutiao suspending updates for six of its sections for 24 hours.

Army of content reviews

The Paper reported on Wednesday that Toutiao was recruiting content reviewers on tech jobs search site Lagou. The mainland outlet reported that the firm was aiming to recruit around 2,000 reviewers. It said the company currently employs over 4,000 content reviewers – the largest such team in the country.

According to the job ad, Toutiao requires staff to examine around 1,000 items per day for illegal content and is seeking candidates who are passionate about news, care about current events, and have good “political sensitivity and judgement.” The position requires applicants to hold undergraduate degrees or above, and said party members would be given priority.

Screenshots from Toutiao.

Following the regulator’s order last week, the app also closed its “society” section and replaced it with one entitled “new era,” which has become one of the default sections in the app.

An unnamed source from Jinri Toutiao told The Paper that the closure of the society section had a broad effect on the company: “But we will resolutely implement the guiding opinions from the relevant departments.”

Toutiao said it replaced the section in order to “better promote the main theme, disseminate the spirit of the 19th Party Congress, and report on the building of the new era.” It also said it was cleaning up independent media accounts containing low-quality content, and had closed 1,101 channels.

The source added that the app had always worked to target clickbait and vulgar content, employing stricter methods than similar apps, but it appeared that they had not done enough.

Hong Kong political commentator Johnny Lau Yui-siu told Apple Daily that, by giving party members priority, the company was trying to appease the authorities and protect itself, and surmised that the media outlet would soon revert to its old ways.

“In the short term, [the changes] can indeed show the effect of the authorities’ intimidation, but the authorities cannot possibly monitor nearly a billion netizens.”

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.