Zhang Yiming, founder and CEO of Toutiao, issued an open apology on morning of April 11th, stating that Toutiao, one of the largest news and information content platform in China, will permanently shut down the Neihan Duanzi (内涵段子) app as well as its Wechat public account.
Neihan Duanzi is a social mobile application where people post jokes, funny videos, pictures, and more. “The product has gone astray, posting content that goes against socialist core values. It’s all on me. I accept all the punishment since it failed to direct public opinion in the right way,” Zhang wrote.
Zhang Yiming expressed that after CCTV, China’s state television broadcaster, reported on Toutiao’s advertising scandal on March 29th, “I continued to reflect on my previous thoughts, and the company’s current practices. I have started to push our staff to increase their awareness, improve management and complete our procedures.”
Zhang Yiming said that the deep-seated problems at the company are: a weak understanding of the “four consciousness”, a lack of socialist core values, and a biased guidance of public opinion. “In the past, we have placed too much emphasis on the role of technology, and failed to realize that socialist core values are the prerequisite to technology. We need to spread positive messages in line with the requirements of the times while respecting public order and good practice.”
We have to adjust our vision,” he said, “My colleagues and I will immediately start make changes: change our mindset and practice.
The letter identified two key points of Toutiao’s upcoming changes: first is to integrate the right values into technology and products, second is to maintain community order, and improve community atmosphere.
Toutiao will strengthen the accountability system of editor-in-chief, correct the defects in algorithm and machine reviews, constantly strengthen operation and review, and expand the existing operation and review group from 6000 to 10,000 people.
At the same time, a blacklist system will be established to start taking special measures to protect minors, setting up online system of anti-addiction, anti-rumors and anti-vulgarity.
“We sincerely look forward to the society’s assistance and supervision of our rectification. We will live up to your expectations.”
Prior to this, CCTV news reports exposed the problem of false advertisements in Toutiao. It points out that “Toutiao” not only made illegal gains by posting fake ads but also by redirecting users from an approved ad page to an unapproved one, violating the consumers rights and damaging company reputations.
Yesterday, the State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT) issued a public annoucement, saying that it is monitoring the rectification of Toutiao. It reported that the Neihan Duanzi app and its related Wechat public account developed by the company are vulgar and misleading in content, causing strong resentment from internet users.
The SARFT ordered Toutiao to permanently shut down the app and its Wechat public account, and asked the company to clean up all similar products.
The following is the full text of Zhang Yiming’s open letter
Friends of Toutiao:
I sincerely apologize to regulators, our users and colleagues. I have been in a state of guilt and remorse since I received the notice from the regulatory authority yesterday afternoon and stayed up all night.
Toutiao will permanently shut down the app and the Wechat account of Neihan Duanzi. The product has gone astray, posting content that goes against socialist core values. It’s all on me. I accept all the punishment since it failed to direct public opinion in the right way.
I blame myself for failing to live up to the guidance and expectations of the authorities. In the past few years, the authorities have given us a lot of guidance and help, but I failed to understand properly and to correct properly in the past that resulted in the repercussions today.
I blame myself for failling the support and trust of our users. We one-sidedly focused on growth and scale without paying timely attention to quality and responsibility, and ignored our responsibility of guiding users to obtain positive information. We have failed to undertake corporate social responsibility, and lack emphasis and understanding of our roles in carry forward the positive energy, and guide public opinion properly.
At the same time, I also failed my colleagues who have put all their enthusiasm and effort into create this product. I take key responsibility for a problem of this size appearing in our product and causing the termination of services.
After CCTV’s report on March 29, I continued to reflect on my previous thoughts and the company’s current practices. I have started to push our staff to increase their awareness, improve management and complete our procedures
I have an engineer background, and my purpose for becoming an entrepreneur is to create a product that facilitates the interactions and exchanges of users around the world. In the past few years, we have put more energy and resources on the growth of the company, but have not taken enough measures to make up for our shortcomings on platform supervision and corporate social responsibility, such as an effective governance of vulgar, violent and harmful content or false advertising.
As a startup that experienced rapid expansion after the 18th National Congress, we thoroughly understand that our rapid development is an opportunity given to us by this great era. I am grateful for this era, grateful for the historical opportunity of reform and opening up, and for our country’s support in the science and technology industry.
I reflect that the deep-seated problems for the company are: a weak understanding of the “four consciousness”, a lack of socialist core values, and a biased guidance of public opinion. “In the past, we have placed too much emphasis on the role of technology, and failed to realize that socialist core values are the prerequisite to technology. We need to spread positive messages in line with the requirements of the times while respecting public order and good practice.”
We must adjust our vision. To build a global platform for creating content and exchanges, we need to ensure that the created content and the communication are positive, healthy and beneficial to the era, and bring positive energy to the people.
We must reinterpret and implement our social responsibilities: integrity, innovation, value creation, responsibility and win-win cooperation. I thoroughly undersatnd that the development of enterprises must be consistent with the development of this era and this national .
Today, the regulatory authorities, the public and the media have all pointed out our company’s problems. It’s a kind reminder and powerful spur. My colleagues and I will immediately begin to make changes to our mindset and practice.
I. Integrating the right values into technology and products
- Strengthen party building, enhance education of all the staff on the “four consciousness”, socialist core values, public opinion guidance, as well as laws and regulations, and truly fulfill our social responsibility.
- Strengthen the institutions of all business lines to fulfill their social responsibilities and include it into the scope of performance evaluation.
- Further deepen cooperation with authoritative media, improve distribution of authoritative media content, and ensure the effective dissemination of authoritative voices.
- We will increase the accountability of the editor-in-chief, correct the defects in our algorithm and machine review, constantly improve operation and review, and expand the existing operation and review team from 6000 to 10,000 people.
II. Reinforce community order and improve community atmosphere
- The company will make April the rectification month. We will set up a rectification committee, thoroughly check for problems in our products, report our progress to the supervision department regularly, and share our results with the public at the same time.
- Establish a blacklist system to permanently ban creators who violate community values.
- Start taking special measures to protect minors and to ensure the physical and mental health of minors in our product design, operation and review.
- We will build an online system of anti-obsession, anti-rumor and anti-vulgarity, and solve community problem through product design and technology.
- We will set up an expert group on content supervision, invite National Party Congress representatives, Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference members, experts and scholars, media and other representatives from all walks of life, as well as industry professionals, to monitor the content and services of the platform. We will collect all their feedbacks and better enhance the quality of our content.
Lastly, I apologize again to the regulatory authorities and our friends.
We should have done better, and we certainly will do better.
We sincerely look forward to the community helping and monitoring our rectification. We will try our best to live up to everyone’s expectations.
Zhang Yiming, Founder and CEO of Toutiao
April 11, 2018