Chinese tech executives retreat from social media amid industry woes, tightening internet content regulations

  • Jean Liu Qing, president of Didi Chuxing, and her father Liu Chuanzhi, founder of Lenovo, are the latest Chinese executives to hide their posts on Weibo
  • Amid a Big Tech crackdown that has executives keeping a low profile, social media platforms have been grappling with public discontent over lockdowns

Several top executives at Chinese companies have seen their social media presence reduced over the past week amid tightening rules and regulations on internet content and fallout from Beijing’s Big Tech crackdown.

Jean Liu Qing, president of ride-hailing giant Didi Chuxing, and her father Liu Chuanzhi, founder of computer maker Lenovo, have both hidden their posts on the microblogging platform Weibo. Their accounts are now set to only display posts made within the last six months, according to a notice on their account pages on Saturday, and none of those posts are displayed publicly.

The Lius are just the latest high-profile executives to either hide their social media content or have it removed for them.

Last week, Weibo removed the official account for Wang Sicong, the son of Chinese property tycoon Wang Jianlin, who has stayed in the public eye as a social media influencer since the failure of his video game live-streaming platform Panda TV. His Weibo account, with 40 million followers, was closed after he openly questioned the efficacy of the traditional Chinese medicine Lianhua Qingwen for treating Covid-19 and the Shanghai government’s mandatory testing policy.

Over the weekend, Weibo and Tencent Holdings’ WeChat banned accounts operated by Hong Hao, head of research at Bank of Communications (Bocom) International. Hong is known for his commentary on Chinese markets and the macroeconomy. Weibo also temporarily suspended the account of Fu Peng, chief economist at Northeast Securities.

The decision by the Lius to hide their posts comes as the technology industry remains under tight scrutiny. A government cybersecurity investigation into Didi remains in limbo after Didi “forced its way” to a US$4.4 billion initial public offering in New York last July, an act later described as a deliberate act of deceit.

More recently, Didi started looking at options for delisting from the New York Stock Exchange in favour of a Hong Kong listing. However, the company was told its relisting plans would not be approved until it had made sufficient “rectifications”. In the meantime, Didi has been losing market share at home since Beijing’s probe forced the removal of dozens of the company’s apps from app stores and prevented it from registering new users.

Jean Liu, along with Didi CEO Will Cheng Wei and other executives, have since stayed out of the public spotlight.

Amid the prolonged industry crackdown throughout 2021, which has extended into this year, other tech executives have also reduced their social media presence. Wang Xing, founder and CEO of on-demand delivery service Meituan, and Zhang Yiming, founder and former CEO of TikTok maker ByteDance, hid their Weibo posts from public view last year.

Zhang is one of multiple Chinese Big Tech founders to step down from leadership roles amid Beijing’s regulatory storm. Zhang stepped down as ByteDance chairman in November, after vacating his role as CEO. Colin Huang, founder of e-commerce platform Pinduoduo, stepped down as chairman in March last year, while Su Hua, founder of short video app Kuaishou, stepped down in October.

Chinese social media platforms have also been ramping up efforts to clamp down on internet content deemed to be “fake news” or “rumours”. The latest effort includes displaying user locations based on their internet protocol (IP) addresses. The measure from platforms including Weibo, WeChat, Quora-like Zhihu and Douyin, China’s domestic version of TikTok, went into effect last week.

While Beijing has been ramping up efforts to better control online content for months, efforts have intensified recently to grapple with public discontent over the handling of stringent pandemic lockdown measures in cities such as Shanghai and Changchun.

Author: Xinmei Shen, SCMP

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