One of China’s most popular news apps issued an abject apology Wednesday and pledged to increase its internal censorship staff to 10,000 after it and three other apps were temporarily banned by the government in a widening content crackdown.

Chinese media reports earlier this week said the four apps, led by news and content aggregator Jinri Toutiao, had been ordered removed from app stores for up to three weeks.

Jinri Toutiao
Jinri Toutiao. Photo: Wikicommons.

They are the latest victims in a tightening wave of censorship by the ruling Communist Party aimed at expunging anything deemed in conflict with “core socialist values”.

Zhang Yiming, the founder and CEO of Toutiao, said in an apology issued Wednesday on one of its social media feeds that he was “consumed by guilt and remorse, and have not slept all night” over the ban.

Toutiao is owned by Beijing-based technology group Bytedance, which boasts more than 200 million users and is one of the world’s largest internet startups with a valuation over US$20 billion, according to Bloomberg News.

china internet censorship
Photo: Wikicommons.

The ban was triggered by a service Toutiao offered through which users shared ribald jokes and videos, which Zhang said had now been permanently shut down.

“Over the years, authorities have given us lots of guidance and support but I did not truly understand or recognise this in my heart,” Zhang said.

Saying the company had prioritised growth over social responsibility, Zhang pledged to reassess the company’s vision and offer more “positive” fare in these “great times” brought by the Communist Party.

Zhang said the number of Toutiao staff charged with eliminating banned content would be raised to 10,000, up from 6,000, and that it would create a blacklist of banned users and deploy new censorship technologies.

China tightly monitors the internet for sensitive or unapproved content, and has wielded an increasingly heavy hand as President Xi Jinping has strengthened his own grip on the country with calls for a return to socialist purity under the dominance of the party.

It wasn’t clear what specific content triggered the moves against the three apps, which also included apps by Tencent, NetEase and Phoenix News.

Toutiao was banned from downloads for three weeks, while the others received lesser shutdowns.

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