China Hires 'Sexual Content Appraisers' for Porn Crackdown, Receives Thousands of Applications
A nationwide crackdown on pornography in China, a campaign known as "Cleaning the Web 2014," has shut 110 websites and deleted 3,300 accounts on China-based social networking services, as well as online forums.
Online companies are hiring young people of solid character to act as pornography watchdogs, weeding out shocking images of people having sex or even bikini-clad young women to protect public morals.
On the Anhui province website, ahlife.com, Liu Chunqi, a police officer who works as a "sexual content appraiser" in the city of Harbin, said it was a dreadful job.
"When I do the appraisal, all I am thinking about is whether the content meets the standards for sexual content or whether the content in the video or disc is publicly advertising sex or showing sex. Some people think it's just watching porn, but it's not. Sometimes it makes me throw up," he said, without further elaborating.
Online censorship is a tricky issue in China, home to the world's largest online population. The government likes the business benefits of the Internet but dislikes the platform it offers to people who think differently from the ruling Communist Party.
Rights activists say the porn crackdown is just another excuse to step up limits on freedom of expression as part of the vast system of online control known as the Great Firewall of China.
The "GFW," which bans Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and many other overseas websites, also bans politically sensitive words and aims to stamp out any form of online dissent. It makes using the Internet in China slow and often frustrating when trying to do even routine tasks.
Last week, Sina Corp. was handed the toughest punishment yet, after Beijing authorities landed the online giant with a fine of $800,000 and removed some of its online publication licenses.
"We have revoked the two licenses of Sina.com, including those for Internet publication and network distribution of audiovisual programs," said Zhou Huilin, deputy director of the National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications.
Sina owns Sina Weibo -- China's version of the banned Twitter -- and the fine comes days after Weibo went public in an IPO in New York, and it hit Weibo's share price. According to the Beijing Public Security Bureau, those responsible have been detained for investigation.
The fine appears to relate to publications online that sold what the watchdog described as pornographic material, although the titles may appear mild to Western readers, with many boasting of "temptresses" or the lust of "village women," as in, The Village Woman's Dream Lover: Village Doctor Wanted.
Some of these articles were as long as 500-plus chapters and clocked up over one million clicks, the watchdog said in a statement carried on the Xinhua news agency, "endangering public morality and seriously harming minors' physical and mental health."
The campaign against obscenity is due to last until November, shutting portals with obscene content and locking up those criminally accountable, said Zhou.
Posting porn can lead to jail sentences of up to three years in China, and those who make more than $40,000 from smut-related business can go to jail for life.
"Sina.com, as a large-scale Internet portal with a quantity of Internet users including minors, should have abided by the law to seek profits, but it ignored the law and took the form of network literature and audiovisual programs to openly spread pornographic information resulting in great harm to the society," Zhou said.
There have been messages of support for some of the country's top Internet stars, including Japanese adult-movie performer Sora Aoi, who is a legend in China and who has not been affected by the crackdown, but other Japanese "AV" (adult video) stars have been hit.
Despite the headlines, there is widespread questioning online over just how widely enforced the porn crackdown has been. While researching some of these stories from Beijing, your correspondent discovered that the online reader is a mere two clicks away from some steamy content.
According to several local media sites, over 4,000 people have applied for the job of appraising sexual content since the middle of last month, under orders to watch for sleeveless T-shirts, suggestive shorts and bikinis -- even sensual contact between animated characters online.
"A dozen major Internet companies, including Baidu, Tencent and Kingsoft, opened positions for sexual content appraisers in mid-April, which received overwhelming response on the Internet and over 4,000 applications," Want China Times reported.
The job to stamp out "yellow" content, as porn is euphemistically referred to in China, is apparently open to both men and women between the ages of 20 and 35, located in Beijing and with an annual salary of $32,000.
There have been around 100 applicants so far.
One Sina Weibo commentator said that evaluating what is smut and what is not is difficult.
"Judging what's is pornographic in literature is hard; you can't use 'one size fits all' and simply ban words like 'prostitute' or 'sex'," wrote He Guoqiang Tanchou.
"We are a conservative country, and we don't refer to some sensitive topics, but it doesn't mean all obscure things are trash and poisonous cancer."