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China is looking at how it can limit the role of algorithms in content distribution to align online content with the state’s agenda in order to shape the country’s minds and mainstream views.

The Central Propaganda Department of the Communist Party, the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, the State Administration of Radio and Television, and the China Federation of Literary and Art Circles and Chinese Writers Association, the country’s state propaganda organs, are calling for better “culture and art reviews” in China.

They will be introducing new policy guidelines, of which the full text will be published in the coming months.

Why are the guidelines being introduced?

  • The authorities prefer to promote to boost loyalty and state recognition among the public through “culture and art reviews”, instead of popular topics on Chinese social media like personal affairs and scandals involving China’s movie stars.

  • This week, authorities cleaned up 150,000 instances of harmful content and punished more than 4,000 accounts related to fan clubs, or online communities formed around celebrities.

  • The state propaganda agencies pledged to have deeper involvement with digital platforms to launch more “micro-reviews, short reviews, snap reviews and all-media reviews” as a way to increase their interaction with audiences.

  • They said China will “strengthen research and guidance of cyberspace algorithms, impose comprehensive governance of cyberspace algorithm recommendations, and not provide channels for dissemination of erroneous content.”

What are the guidelines?

  • Under the guidelines, all Chinese content creators and distributors are told to “adhere to the correct direction, strengthen Marxist literary theory and criticism”.

  • They are told to pay attention to the social effects of literary criticism … and not to contribute to the spread of low, vulgar and pandering content or quasi-entertainment content”.

  • It stressed that China will “improve the standards of literary and art criticism” and “put social value first” because “we can’t become slaves of online traffic or let commercial standards trump artistic ones.”

Why does this matter?

  • China is cracking down on big tech with a six-month-long campaign that will address the ‘tough problems’ of the internet industry, including disturbing market order, infringing users’ rights, threatening data security, and unauthorized internet connections.

  • The campaign will target 22 specific scenarios, including apps that do not allow users to opt-out of personalization, use pop-ups to mislead or deceive consumers, do not encrypt sensitive information when transmitting data, and provide data to third parties without user consent.

  • It will also crackdown on blocking and restricting normal access to other websites without a legitimate reason.

  • These measures are aimed at the likes of Tencent’s WeChat, which is known for blocking links to its competitors, and Bytedance, which owns Douyin (TikTok) and blocks link to livestreaming sites like Alibaba’s Taobao and JD.com.