Welcome to China’s new world of online censorship, where Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four meets Silicon Valley start-up.
The young censors in the Tianjin office – or “auditors” – work for Beijing ByteDance Technology Co, better known as Toutiao, a popular and fast-growing news feed app.
Surrounded by noodle restaurants and construction sites, the Wisdom Mountain Twin Towers, where the censors do their work, don’t exactly look Orwellian.
Workers scan into bright offices using iPads. There are team building sessions typical of start-ups the world over. And the dress code is casual.
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“Our corporate culture is really good; every afternoon, for example, we get together for tea,” said one censor at the Toutiao office. A “horizontal” management structure means “ordinary employees can send messages about their issues straight to the CEO”.
The censor added: “Overall the firm is seen as a cool place to work.”
Toutiao’s Tianjin “auditing” centre is at the heart of a vast Chinese censorship effort that is growing fast as official scrutiny of online content intensifies.
According to figures released by the state media outlet Beijing News, China had roughly 2 million online content monitors in government departments and private companies in 2013. Academics estimate that number has since risen sharply.