China’s WeChat, Douyin crack down on vulgar jokes and misinformation

Ann Cao, South China Morning Post

Posted at Feb 27 2022 08:21 AM

Major Chinese social media platforms said they are clamping down on misinformation and other inappropriate content, as internet users in the country took to WeChat, Douyin, and other popular apps to discuss Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

"Individuals took the opportunity to post objectionable information about global news events," said a statement published by Tencent Holdings' ubiquitous messaging app WeChat on its official account on Friday. The post was later shared by a unit of the Cyberspace Administration of China, the country's internet watchdog.

Examples of improper content cited by WeChat include false information alleging that students can receive course credits for enlisting to fight in Ukraine, as well as "vulgar" messages calling on "beautiful Ukrainian women" to go to China.

ByteDance's Douyin, the Chinese sibling of short video app TikTok, said it had handled 6,400 videos and suspended 1,620 live-streaming sessions that violated its rules as part of a targeted crackdown against users who "make a joke out of news events".

Videos, such as those calling for the "capture of beautiful Ukrainian women", spread inappropriate values and harmed the platform's atmosphere, Douyin said on its WeChat account on Saturday.

Weibo, the Twitter-like microblogging platform, said on Friday it had temporarily banned or shut down 105 accounts involved in "abusive and provoking" content.

WeChat, Douyin and Weibo all called on users to remain "objective and rational", and uphold a "clean and upright atmosphere" when discussing international events.

While Beijing has refused to condemn Moscow's actions in Ukraine, Chinese netizens have taken to social media to unleash sympathy, anger and mockery about the conflict.

As Russian troops crossed into Ukraine, hashtags such as "Why is Russia attacking Ukraine" and "Russian and Ukrainian forces exchange fire" quickly became trending topics on Weibo and Douyin, drawing tens of millions of views and comments.

Questionable comments from male users saying they could "take care of" Ukrainian women refugees sparked widespread criticisms.

"Please stop making fun of the war," said a Weibo user who claimed to be a Chinese student in Ukraine in a post shared by tens of thousands of users. "While you are drinking milk tea and sending out jokes at home, it is us, your compatriots on the battlefield, who are paying for your actions."

Some netizens, cheering on Russia's aggression, accused the US and its allies of provoking Moscow.

"The US is simply trying to steer away from the crisis," a Weibo user commented on a post about the White House's announcement that it will not send troops to Ukraine.

Other users said Washington's reluctance to send forces into Ukraine bodes ill for Taiwan, the self-ruled island that is considered by Beijing as a renegade province to be seized back one day - by force if necessary.

"Watch out, Taiwan," wrote a Weibo user. "Ukraine will only demonstrate once."

With attention on the conflict growing in China, Ukraine and Russia have both rushed to connect with Chinese social media users.

On Tuesday, the Ukrainian embassy in Beijing posted on Weibo a Chinese translation of a statement from Kyiv, condemning Russian President Vladimir Putin for declaring Donestsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine as "independent states". The post, which became one of the platform's top search topics, drew 3 million searches and nearly 800,000 likes in a day.

In the same week, the Russian embassy - whose Weibo account has more than 413,000 followers, almost 16 times as many as the Ukrainian embassy's - pinned at the top of its page a post about Putin signing a decree to recognise the independence of Donetsk and Luhansk.

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