It's time to clean up the pollution out there clouding our cyberspace and choking us

Naming and shaming some culprits need to intensify, if you have any idea of the scale of the sink of iniquity hosted by unscrupulous online providers.

THE last day of 2017 was shrouded in pervading smog which did not improve until the morning in the first day of this new year. Immediately in the wake of the cleanup, I and my son took a two-hour stroll on the walking lane along the Huangpu River in Pudong that has been much in the news lately.

A colleague, citing the heavy pollution, said she and her family did not venture outside during the holiday.

We have been living with air pollution for some time, but generally speaking, given consensus and determination, physical pollution is probably something we can tackle with confidence. For instance, with emergency production cuts, traffic controls, or even auspicious winds, there can be relief in sight.

By comparison it is harder to come to grips with a kind of smog many of us have grown resigned to. I am talking about the pornographic and vulgar stuff churned out by so many irresponsible online operators in their chase for money.

Fortunately, our regulators are determined to take action against that trend.

Last Friday, a Chinese Internet regulator ordered Toutiao and Phoenix News to temporarily suspend parts of their channels for “spreading pornographic and vulgar information” and providing news services without certain licenses.

In continuously hosting pornographic content, these apps “seriously misled the public and negatively impacted the online media environment,” according to the Beijing municipal cyberspace information office. They were also guilty of using sensational headlines — “clickbait” — to fuel online traffic.

As part of its rectification, six Toutiao channels were ordered to suspend updates for 24 hours, while two Phoenix News channels were forced to stop feeding for 12 hours.

Naming and shaming some culprits would probably send a signal, but this cleanup endeavor need to intensify, if you have any idea of the scale of the sink of iniquity hosted by unscrupulous online providers.

Generally speaking I make extremely sparing use of online information, but even I have been long victimized by this unavoidable online trash. For instance, if I click the browser on my mobile to look up some practical information, I am immediately directed to a rich fare of “breaking news” especially prepared by UC Toutiao.

Each of these items is an eye opener, stretching your imaginative power in a certain dimension, redefining human decency, and constantly testing the limits of our tolerance.

I checked out the browser yesterday, and the cream of these headlines include: “20 year old girl, trying to marry herself off to raise money to save a dying dad, was approached by man offering 1,000 yuan a night”, “Woman murdered four in 7 years, had the bodies buried in vegetable garden, and showed no remorse when apprehended,” “Insight into hidden rules in Japanese media: Show your lower parts, and come licking them!” One vintage stuff had been on the recommendation list on and off for several months: “35-year-old, after dating 17 women, was hospitalized after an accident, and was unmasked when visited by all the dates!”

It is hard to imagine some of these “headlines” editors have the audacity to claim descendency from practitioners of Confucianism who used to put such a premium on moral integrity, etiquette, rituals and decorum. Confucius once taught: “Look not at what is contrary to propriety; listen not to what is contrary to propriety; speak not what is contrary to propriety; make no movement which is contrary to propriety.”

To break away from this junk, I tried to uninstall the software, only to be warned that “This is a system app, and cannot be uninstalled!”

I checked online, and was told UC Toutiao was a news provider relying on 10 years of cutting-edge expertise in big data and algorithms.

By using this much-touted technology of personalized recommendation algorithms, these online providers can offer you fantasy most to your liking based on your previous record of perusals.

As the information sent you is highly aligned with your “interests”, a constant bombardment with such information would consolidate adhesion, boost ad sales, and consolidate the bottom line. Sadly, such cacophany comes at the expense of mainstream ideology, and can lead to fatigue, and insensitivity to truth, goodness, and beauty.

In President Xi Jinping’s report at 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, he talked about the need to “strengthen the penetration, guidance, influence, and credibility of the media,” and to “put in place a system for integrated internet management to ensure a clean cyberspace”.

There is a clear urgency to subject cyberspace to stronger regulation. Any delay or let-up would be costly, if you consider the number of children being nurtured on these junky titbits.

Special Reports