By Oiwan Lam
Authorities in China have ordered a ban on NeihanShequ, a popular app for jokes and riddles, arguing that Neihan content has become too “vulgar” and “banal”.
On April 10, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television of China (SAPPRFT) ordered Toutiao or Today’s Headline, China’s most popular information platform, to shut down its affiliated social media application, NeihanShequ (內涵段子). Neihan allowed users to submit jokes and riddles in multimedia format, for others to comment on and vote up or down.
SAPPRFT’s press release on April 10 stated:
Launched in 2012, NeihanShequ’s application has had more than 14 million downloads. The application is a rising star among a dozen more popular content applications affiliated with Toutiao, which had an estimated USD $22 billion market value in August 2017.
The company’s CEO Zhang Yiming issued a public apology in response to SAPPRFT’s order:
Zhang also promised that Toutiao will strengthen self-censorship measures by increasing the pre-screen staff team from 6,000 to 10,000 people.
The public reaction to the ban has been strong — many have expressed their frustration through humor, in keeping with the spirit of Neihan.
Some Neihan community members have created flashmob videos mourning the shutdown of the site. Most of these videos also have been taken down from public domain, but some are still available. Here is one backup video on Facebook in which people collectively sing a mourning song.
Although most of the multimedia content mourning the shutdown has been censored, text content is still searchable. A widely circulated mourning statement read:
Trees and grass shed tears, fellows are in grief. Our friend Neihan lies in peace upon green pine leaves, covered with a colourful flag which symbolizes what he pursued throughout his life.
Tencent and Weibo could not attend the mourning because their accounts had been suspended. WeChat was incommunicado. QQ was undergoing system maintenance.
International friends including YouTube, Twitter and Facebook sent their condolences. Toutiao and Netease News sent flowers. Kuaipai, Houshan, Tik Tok attended the mourning in person and bowed to Neihan.
Other netizens have suggested that the ban was motivated mainly by the strength of the Neihan community, which could be seen as a threat to power, rather than by vulgarity or banality as stated by authorities.
Others have reflected on the strength of Neihan as a community and described the values that brought users together:
Neihan is not the only target in this latest crackdown. Authorities seem to be focused on multimedia content platforms, as content-based censorship on these platforms can be difficult.
Two other multimedia content platforms affiliated with Toutiao are under pressure to clean up their content. Tik Tok, a music video social media application, activated an “anti-addiction” function on April 10. Houshan, a video selfie-sharing application, has been temporary taken down by SAPPRFT.
Kauishou, a popular image sharing app, was pressured to hire 3,000 new staff to pre-screen its content after SAPPRFT issued a temporary take-down notice early this month.
This article first appeared on Global Voices on April 11.