People’s Daily Rides Boom in Censorship for Hire
The growing burden of Chinese authorities’ increasingly stringent censorship demands has fueled expansion not only of domestic tech companies’ own in-house content monitoring workforces, but also of outsourced censorship services. In January, The New York Times’ Li Yuan reported on the self-styled “Foxconn” of this industry, Beijing-based Beyondsoft. Another key player, Reuters’ Lusha Zhang and Ryan Woo report, is the online division of official Party newspaper People’s Daily which, like Beyondsoft, offers services combining human and automated content review.
People.cn has clinched deals with tech firms including leading news aggregator Jinri Toutiao to identify and delete material that does not meet government guidelines.
[…] People.cn’s online content review platform can detect and remove most sensitive online material via artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning algorithms, Ye Zhenzhen, president of People.cn, wrote in an article in February.
[…] Content that AI has trouble recognising and information in “grey areas” such as metaphors and subtle references is left to human analysts.
“The platform adjusts key words for monitoring from time to time according to directives from the Communist Party propaganda department,” said a Beijing-based manager at a major U.S.-listed Chinese tech company that had collaborated with People.cn to develop AI technology for its platform.
The platform continues to learn new words and rules on its own, for example by memorising state media reports, the person, who was not authorised to speak to media, told Reuters. [Source]
At The Financial Times, Christian Shepherd outlined People’s Daily’s perceived competitive advantage:
The newspaper is not alone in offering outsourcing for censorship. A number of start-ups and big tech companies, such as internet search provider Baidu and gaming group NetEase, have also begun offering text, image and video censorship services. Many tech companies have also gone on hiring sprees to attract thousands of new censors.
But People’s Daily’s intimate relationship with the party’s propaganda department and top leadership leave it well placed to beat other offerings. During a visit to the newspaper in 2016, President Xi Jinping said: “The whole party and all the nation’s people seek spiritual strength and a ‘guiding star’ from the People’s Daily.”
The first company to partner with People’s Daily, the Shenzhen-based Quantum Cloud, a start-up that runs numerous popular tech blogs, said during a signing ceremony last year that the paper offered “a professional team and a first-mover advantage” for content censorship. [Source]
In early March, South China Morning Post’s Xie Yu reported on the financial boost to People.cn from its expanding “content risk control” business:
Shares of the Shanghai-listed website soared 10 per cent to 31.5 yuan (US$4.70) a few minutes after trading started on Tuesday. It was the 12th time in the past 15 trading days that the stock has hit the 10 per cent limit. (Chinese stocks are capped at a 10 per cent limit of either gains or losses.)
The website’s share price has rallied by 325 per cent since the start of the year, from about 7.4 yuan. That makes it one of the best performers on China’s A-share market.
[…] Revenue generated by content review for third parties has become the fastest growth engine for People.cn. Its earning’s alert shows revenue of this sector increased by 166 per cent year on year in 2018.
People.cn’s net profit could surge to 21.5 million yuan in 2018, up by as much as 140 per cent from that in 2017, according to its latest earnings alert in late January.
During a conference meeting with investors on February 27, People.cn said “content risk control is an emerging business that at this point cannot be estimated for its market size”. [Source]
To capitalize on the opportunity, Jiayun Feng reports at SupChina, People.cn is setting up a new subsidiary in Jinan, Shandong, an emerging censorship hub due to its plentiful supply of graduates and proximity to Beijing paired with relatively low living costs.
The deal will bring a string of benefits to Jinan. A new revenue report by People.cn shows that in the past few years, the website’s censorship department — which also provides services to other online media companies — grew rapidly and has become a key revenue driver. Additionally having more internet companies in the city — regardless of their actual relations with technology — can improve the city’s image and help officials boast of “innovation,” which the Party exhorts all cadres to nurture.
Journalist’s Station notes that People.cn is not the first media platform to locate its team of web censors in Jinan. Beijing-based news aggregator Yīdiǎn Zīxùn 一点资讯, New York-listed Phoenix New Media, and online content recommendation platform Zuìyòu 最右 all earlier chose to move their censorship departments to the city. Because of this, Jinan is already home to over 5,000 internet censors, according to Journalist’s Station.
[…] Commenting on the phenomenon, an experienced media professional told the reporter that it’s convenient for digital media firms to have their censorship teams in Jinan for a variety of reasons. First, culturally speaking, people in Shandong, the home province of Confucius, are naturally interested in politics and more likely to align themselves with Party values than the rest of the country. “Even in the field of internet censorship, which normally has a high turnover, censors in Shandong stay at their jobs relatively longer than others,” the professional said. [Source]