Social media users across the world are having a hard time these days.
China just shut down a Reddit-like community
As Facebook users worry about their data privacy, millions of Chinese people woke up this morning to find that their favorite joke-sharing app had been killed by the government.
Neihan Duanzi, a mobile platform that once claimed a user base of 200 million, was suddenly shut down by Chinese government on Tuesday.
The popular network was the latest target of a sweeping internet crackdown from Beijing that has affected various news, gaming and video apps.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a congressional hearing Tuesday that growing a tech company like his is possible in China – but what happened to this Reddit-like forum is a telling example of just what rules they would have to play by in order to survive.
In Neihan Duanzi’s case, the consequence of not obeying was a sudden death.
In an online statement on Tuesday, the country’s media watchdog said the app was shut down because it included improper and vulgar content.
It did not provide details, but the umbrella term is known to cover pornographic or violent content, or content critical of the authorities.
A Reddit-like community
Neihan Duanzi, which means “implied jokes” in Chinese, was launched in 2012 by Beijing Bytedance Technology Co.
Together with Bytedance’s other news and video services, Duanzi helped the company achieve a valuation of over $20 billion in five years.
The app itself has developed into a Reddit-like community with its own culture and language.
Its users, many of them students and young blue-collar workers, shared funny jokes and videos while posting memes. Many of them were indeed vulgar.
Some fans even put Duanzi stickers on the rear windshield of their cars, and honk their horns – three times, to be exact – when they see another car with the sticker.
An internet home
Many Duanzi loyalists were shocked and saddened by the announcement of the app’s closure.
“It was painful,” said Mr. Yin, 19, a technician in the eastern province of Jiangsu who declined to give his full name.
“I’ve gotten so much happiness and positive energy from Duanzi,” Yin said, adding that he used to spend a few hours using the app every day.
A Shandong-based user Liu Chenggong, 19, told Inkstone that it was part of his routine to read Duanzi every day, before going to bed and after waking up.
“I feel like a piece of my heart is gone,” Liu said.
Fellow users have taken to other social media sites to express their anger and call for solidarity, with some crying over “the loss of home.”
Duanzi was the latest of a string of popular online platforms punished by authorities over what Beijing deems inappropriate content.
Earlier this week, local media reported that four news apps, including Bytedance’s main news app Toutiao, were ordered to be temporarily removed from app stores. Toutiao’s suspension is due to last three weeks.
In a lengthy apology published online on Tuesday, Bytedance chief executive Zhang Yiming said the company had failed to realize that “technology must be guided by socialist core values.”
He pledged to strengthen ideological education for his employees and raise the number of content censors in the company from 6,000 to 10,000.
Yu Xue, an analyst at market research firm International Data Corporation, said Beijing’s tightening control is increasingly weighing on the business of Chinese internet companies.
“They need to hire more people to make sure everything is in line with government propaganda,” Xue said.
“But by censoring the content, they will also lose users who no longer find the platforms interesting.”
A number of other Chinese tech firms were also recently punished for failing to properly censor online content.
Running a tech business in China these days isn’t just about the technology. Mark Zuckerberg should know: he has tried to get Facebook unblocked in the country with no success.