New regulations make travel platforms like Ctrip responsible for content uploaded by users
China has included censorship of content as part of sweeping new regulations targeting online travel agencies and platforms as the ruling Communist Party moves to extend its grip on cyberspace beyond social media platforms.
The 42 specific regulations, drafted by China's Ministry of Culture and Tourism, include rules mandating that online travel providers are responsible for regulating content customers upload onto their platforms, including text, pictures, audio and videos.
Censorship of content should be done before it is published online to "guarantee information security," the draft regulations say. Platform operators also have to take necessary measures to prevent information from spreading if its publication contravenes laws and rules. At the same time, platforms need to keep records of who tried to post such information, report them to the authorities, and cooperate with authorities on any follow up investigation.
The new regulations represent the latest efforts by the central government to extend the monitoring of internet content from social media platforms to other business sectors as part of ongoing efforts to "clean up" its cyberspace of 800 million users.
China has long censored what its citizens can read and say on the internet, from live-streaming videos to social media platforms. Earlier this year, Chinese authorities introduced detailed regulations targeting the country's burgeoning short video industry, singling out 100 categories of banned content, ranging from smearing the image of Communist Party leaders to sexual moaning. As a result, China's social media companies employ thousands of staff to censor content that might fall afoul of the country's stringent regulations governing the internet.
China's online travel providers, which have proliferated following the explosion in number of Chinese tourists traveling across the globe, are now being pulled into that orbit. During the seven-day national holiday period known as golden week, 600 million Chinese traveled domestically and internationally, according to state media Xinhua.
The draft regulations were published on October 10, immediately after golden week, and public opinion on the proposals are being sought until November 10.
More broadly, the draft regulations aim to protect the interests of consumers, requiring that platforms better manage their on-ground service providers, put in place systems to prevent fraud and the spreading of false information, and improve rescue and emergency plans for travel accidents.
China began drafting sweeping regulations targeting the online travel sector last year after a deadly boating accident involving Chinese tourists in Thailand fueled claims of lax oversight, Bloomberg News reported at the time.
In May this year, after China's Labor Day holiday, Xinhua published an article criticizing fraud on online travel platforms, such as collecting high refund fees or refusing to refund consumers.
"It is very urgent to carry out these rules," said the article. "Unscrupulous companies should be punished rather than simply give an apology."
China's largest online travel platform Ctrip declined to comment on the proposed new regulations.
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