A man walks past an advertisement of Bytedance’s news feed platform Toutiao, in Beijing, China Oct 26, 2017. Source: Reuters

AI-powered news portal signs up to distribute Buzzfeed content in China

A POPULAR AI-powered Chinese news portal has signed a deal with US online media company BuzzFeed to distribute its content to local readers in a rare tie-up that will test the limits of China’s tight rules on online content and its strict censorship machine.

Bytedance, best known for its news feed platform Toutiao, said in a statement on Friday it had reached an agreement with BuzzFeed to publish content from the US group on its news and video platforms in China and other parts of the world.

Toutiao, founded in 2012, is one of the country’s fastest-growing tech startups, valued at around US$20 billion last year. It uses algorithms and artificial intelligence to select news, online books, video and other content for readers.

China’s regulators, however, have been driving a fierce crackdown against online content deemed to be in violation of “socialist core values”, or that contains elements that are violent, lurid, or politically sensitive.

It is not clear in the new tie-up how Toutiao will select content from BuzzFeed, which can range from deeply-reported investigations on potentially politically sensitive topics to more low-brow lifestyle and celebrity columns.

Last month, China’s powerful Cyberspace Administration ordered Toutiao to suspend features including its current affairs and Q&A sections due to its broadcast of “vulgar” content and having an “evil influence”.

The company, which has 100 million users in China, later said it was recruiting an additional 2,000 censors to add to its team of “content auditors”, whose main job is reviewing and censoring content.

The logo of Bytedance’s news feed platform Toutiao is seen as its building in Beijing, China, on Oct 21, 2017. Source: Reuters

Toutiao did not respond to comment when contacted by Reuters. BuzzFeed could not be immediately reached for comment.

Last year, China brought in new rules banning virtual private networks (VPNs) and other technologies used to circumvent the country’s Great Firewall, which blocks foreign social media and news sites in the country.

BuzzFeed content already reaches more than 690 million people worldwide each month.

Now their content will reach into China’s vast and fast-growing digital media market by distributing its content on Toutiao, TopBuzz and Xigua Video platforms.

Toutiao, Bytedance’s flagship product, is one of the most popular mobile apps in the country, and one of the first content platforms in the world to offer personalized information feeds powered by machine learning algorithms. Xigua Video is China’s most popular platform for professionally-generated short-form video content, with three billion video views every day.

Bytedance users will be able to enjoy BuzzFeed’s content including videos from its portfolio of popular franchises including Tasty, Nifty, Goodful, Top Knot, and Bring Me.

“We’re so pleased to partner with Bytedance to take our entertainment content to millions of people across China,” BuzzFeed International Vice-President Scott Lamb said in a statement.

“We look forward to meaningfully engaging Chinese audiences in our feedback loop, to learn more about what they love, how they use and interact with our content and what they’d like to see, and we’re thrilled about this first foray into testing our content there.”

Additional reporting by Reuters