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China pledges ‘purification’ of the internet ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics and the Lunar New Year

<i>Stephen Shaver/UPI/Shutterstock</i><br/>China's top cybersecurity regulator is vowing to crack down on
Stephen Shaver/UPI/Shutterstock
Stephen Shaver/UPI/Shutterstock
China's top cybersecurity regulator is vowing to crack down on "illegal" online content as part of a campaign to clean up the internet ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics and one of the country's most important annual holidays

By Laura He, CNN Business

China’s top cybersecurity regulator is vowing to crack down on “illegal” online content as part of a campaign to clean up the internet ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics and one of the country’s most important annual holidays.

The Cyberspace Administration of China announced Tuesday that its month-long internet “purification” campaign is intended to create a “healthy, happy, and peaceful online environment.”

The powerful internet watchdog — which President Xi Jinping set up in 2014 in the name of protecting China’s internet and data security — tied the campaign to the start of the Lunar New Year, a major festival that runs from January 31 to February 6.

But its timing also coincides with the beginning of the 2022 Winter Olympics, which will kick off at the start of February. The games mark the largest international sporting event that China has hosted since Xi took power in 2012, and his government has attached great importance to them as a chance to display a powerful and unified China.

According to the cyberspace agency’s plan, the homepages of key media sites, trending topic search lists, push pop-up windows, and important news content pages must be carefully managed to present “positive information.” It added that obscene, vulgar, bloody, violent and other illegal or bad information should be eradicated to create a “positive online atmosphere.”

The regulator said it will also clamp down on online rumors, as well as prevent “illegal and immoral” celebrities from making a comeback. China has for years punished celebrities it sees as having misbehaved by scrubbing their presences from the internet. Last year, for example, the works of major Chinese actress Zheng Shuang were removed from broadcasters and video sites as she was fined $46 million for tax evasion.

Other “bad” behaviors targeted by the regulator include those that show off wealth or worship money, those that feature over-eating or drinking, and those that advocate or practice fortune-telling on the internet.

The campaign isn’t a complete surprise, as Beijing last year embarked on a sweeping regulatory campaign to tighten control of the internet and purge what it sees as problems in the online space and the entertainment sector.

Last June, the cybersecurity agency launched an online campaign to target “chaotic” celebrity fan culture. A later expansion of the crackdown spread to the entertainment industry, as authorities pledged to eradicate “unhealthy” content from programs, ban celebrities with “incorrect politics” or “effeminate style,” and cultivate a “patriotic” atmosphere.

— CNN’s Beijing bureau contributed to this report.

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