Beijing blasts Tencent, Alibaba and other tech firms for allowing distribution of ‘soft child porn’ emoji sticker packs

  • The Cyberspace Administration of China lectures tech companies for allowing ‘soft child porn’ stickers to be circulated
  • Latest action forms part of broader campaign by authorities to protect minors online as number of underage internet users continue to increase

Tencent Holdings and Alibaba Group Holding are among several tech companies on the receiving end of a lecture by the increasingly powerful Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) for allowing “soft child porn” emoji stickers to spread on their platforms and using “sexually suggestive underage” short videos to lure clicks.

Popular internet platforms, including Tencent’s messaging app QQ, e-commerce platform Taobao run by Alibaba, short video app Kuaishou, social media platform Weibo and social e-commercial app Xiaohongshu, were recently asked to correct the problems, purge relevant user accounts, and were fined an undisclosed amount, the CAC said in a statement on Wednesday.

Tencent, Alibaba, Kuaishou, Weibo and Xiaohongshu did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Wednesday.

CAC also said that it is launching another targeted crackdown to purge the internet in China of content deemed harmful to underage internet users.

This broadens a campaign by CAC to clean up the country’s internet – in September last year it blasted online tutoring platforms, which it said hosted vulgar content that had a negative impact on underage users.

The new crackdown aims to tackle several issues, including pornographic and violent content on online education platforms, people flaunting excessive wealth on live streaming and short video platforms, and online fan groups that induce minors to contribute money to their idols.

Prior to CAC’s campaign, China’s state-run media outlets had published articles blasting “soft child porn stickers” on online platforms.

The stickers are made from cute pictures of children, with sexually suggestive text layered over the top, and have been circulated in a variety of social media groups, the People’s Daily outlined in a January article. The newspaper is the official mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party.

People who produce these stickers have been selling them online and anyone can download and use them, the People’s Daily said. Both the People’s Daily and official state media agency Xinhua have urged regulators to ban these stickers.

In June, the CAC also said that it would seek to stop harmful online fan club activities, such as hurling abuse online and doxxing, which involves searching for and publishing private information with malicious intent about a particular individual on the internet.

In October last year, a revised version of China’s Minors Protection Law added a chapter dedicated to online protection. The chapter includes requirements for device makers to install software to protect minors and new restrictions for online service providers. The revised law officially went into effect on June 1, which was Children’s Day in China.

Local governments also recently released regulations aimed at protecting underage internet users. In July, China’s southern tech hub Shenzhen released China’s first local-level data regulation, which forbids apps from making personalised recommendations to users under the age of 18. The regulation will go into effect in January next year.

Author: Xinmei Shen, South China Morning Post