Picture: REUTERS
Picture: REUTERS

Hong Kong/Beijing — China’s online watchdog has launched an investigation into reports of multiple violations at news services run by Tencent, Baidu and Weibo, as the government continues to tighten its scrutiny of internet content.

The Cyberspace Administration of China said on Friday it had instructed its Beijing and Guangdong branches to look into reports that some of the country’s largest online services were carrying user-generated content laden with "violence, porn, rumours" disruptive to social order.

It did not specify what actions may be taken, and Tencent, Baidu and Weibo had no immediate comment on the notice.

China has put increasing pressure on internet media in the run-up to an important Communist Party congress later this year that is expected to consolidate President Xi Jinping’s authority.

Intent on muzzling potential sources of disruptive information, the government has shut live-streaming services and websites, tightened regulations governing internet access, and issued repeated warnings about the need to clean up content through various agencies.

Observers say the enhanced scrutiny is also characteristic of Xi’s administration.

The latest probe centres on three of the country’s largest repositories of online musings, all with hundreds of millions of users: Tencent’s WeChat messaging service, Weibo’s Twitter-like blog and Baidu’s "Tieba" forums.

Last month, Beijing scrubbed memorial photos of Liu Xiaobo from WeChat and Weibo, following the long-imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize-winning writer’s death in mid-July.

Liu was an author of Charter 08, a document calling for democracy in China, and Beijing aimed to smother that intellectual legacy.

Shares of Tencent, of which SA’s Naspers owns about one-third, fell 4% as of midday in Hong Kong.

Naspers shares dropped as much as 4% in early trade, and were off 3.33% at R2,750.26 at 9.30am on the JSE.

Bloomberg

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