Foreign TV shows were removed from AcFun, a popular Chinese video site, earlier this week, the second time in recent days that a video website in China has been hit by what appears to be government intervention.
The deletions from AcFun followed a similar occurrence at Bilibili last week. Initial explanations said that unlicensed copyright material was removed from Bilibili, which allows uploading by users. But the removal of shows from AcFun as well points to political censorship and heightened regulation of online services in China, where the Communist government has been tightening its control of Internet and other media businesses.
Hong Kong media reported that “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and “Saturday Night Live” from the U.S. and “The Graham Norton Show” from Britain have been labeled as illegal. References to Winnie the Pooh were also removed from large parts of Chinese social media in recent days, a not infrequent occurrence since the bear’s name is often used online to signify Chinese President Xi Jinping.
In recent weeks, Chinese authorities said they would crack down on virtual private networks, or VPNs, which millions of people in China use to protect their online activities from prying and to get around government blocking of services such as Google and Facebook. The networks, which are banned in China, also allow users to watch foreign content as if they were in another country.
Live streaming sites have also been closed or restricted.
Such clampdowns occur regularly in China, especially ahead of major political events. The National Congress of the Communist Party of China, usually held once every five years, is tentatively scheduled to be held in October, and the country is also gearing up to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army.
Government censors routinely delete posts on websites and social media that carry sensitive words or the often clever substitutes that are dreamed up by web users to avoid keyword searches by censors. In the past few days, censors deleted many pages that either used the letters “RIP” or a candle symbol to refer to the death of democracy campaigner and Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo.