‘Adolf Xitler’ Among 500 Banned Nicknames for China’s President Exposed in Leaked Censor List

The document reveals how a Chinese social media app monitors the news to conduct preemptive censorship.
A NEWS REPORT FEATURING CHINESE PRESIDENT XI JINPING OUTSIDE A SHOPPING MALL IN BEIJING. PHOTO: GREG BAKER / AFP
A NEWS REPORT FEATURING CHINESE PRESIDENT XI JINPING OUTSIDE A SHOPPING MALL IN BEIJING. PHOTO: GREG BAKER / AFP

Adolf Xitler, Winnie The Poo and CoronaXi are among hundreds of nicknames for Chinese leader Xi Jinping banned from a Chinese social media app, leaked censorship guidelines revealed.

Scanning the internet for memes, satirical videos and negative comments about the Chinese president, content moderators of the Instagram-like Xiaohongshu identified 564 nicknames and sensitive terms related to Xi within a two-month period in 2020 and preemptively censored them from the platform. 

Advertisement

The 143-page document showed the app isn’t just keeping an eye on the content shared on its own platform, but also actively monitoring the news and developing strategies to stop potentially sensitive topics from spreading on their site. 

It highlighted the extreme lengths Chinese social media goes to in order to control public opinion and stay one step ahead of the discourse. 

The file includes more than two weeks worth of “public sentiment diaries” from May 2020, where content moderators flagged news that could potentially gain traction and manually identified keywords to ban, so the app’s censorship apparatus could screen related content more effectively. 

“I had never heard of such a thing when I was working at Weibo in 2011. We only took orders and deleted things accordingly, instead of making predictions based on sensitive topics,” Eric Liu, a former content moderator, told VICE World News. Liu is now an analyst for the U.S.-based news site China Digital Times, which obtained the document from a Telegram group. 

VICE World News could not independently verify the document. Xiaohongshu did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Even though Xiaohongshu primarily features lifestyle and travel content, its moderators have to look out for news events including natural disasters, incidents related to public health and safety, protests and strikes, marketing scandals as well as important political occasions. As the diaries showed, they reported a daily average of 30 events and received specific instructions on how to handle certain matters. 

Advertisement

For instance, after news of a male Chinese teacher who molested more than 20 male students in a decade broke, content moderators were asked to beware of posts drawing parallels to other recent sexual assaults of minors or spreading the concept of homosexuality. 

When protests took place in Hong Kong’s shopping malls, they were told to examine street views in the background of Hong Kong clips, lest they feature protest graffiti and slogans. 

The document also listed their protocols for handling emergencies, which includes a cross-checking step. Besides removing related posts immediately, content moderators extract keywords from the deleted content and conduct a second round of screening to ensure nothing can slip past the censors. 

It is an additional step outside of the regular censorship process in order for the app to keep in step with the Chinese government’s constantly shifting rules, Liu added.

Follow Rachel Cheung on Twitter and Instagram.