The Beijing City Government said yesterday it would tighten control over popular microblogs that have vexed authorities with their rapid dissemination of news, giving users three months to register with their real names or face legal consequences.
China has repeatedly criticized microblogs for irresponsibly spreading what it calls unfounded rumors and vulgarity and has issued a series of warnings in recent months that online content must be acceptable to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
Microblogs such as Sina Weibo allow users to issue short messages of opinion — a maximum of 140 Chinese characters — that can course through chains of followers who receive messages instantly.
Censors have a hard time monitoring the tens of millions of messages sent every day and users have become expert at using clever, nuanced language to discuss sensitive topics such as human rights and the foibles of the top leadership.
Now, in rules unveiled by the Chinese capital’s government and carried by state media, individual and company users must register with their real identification information.
Users have three months to register with “responsible departments for Internet content” or will face legal consequences, state media cited the rules as saying.
However, people will be able to choose their own user names, Xinhua news agency cited an unidentified government official as saying.
Hong Kong media said the cities of Shanghai and Guangzhou were likely to follow suit.
China has more than 300 million registered microbloggers, although many people have more than one account.
Wang Junxiu (王俊秀), an Internet commentator and investor in Beijing, said the new policy would be difficult to implement, but nonetheless would have a chilling effect on online controversies.
“I don’t know how they’re going to implement this, because there are already hundreds of -millions of users on microblogs,” said Wang, who studies microblog developments. “How do you go about checking them one by one? It will be very hard to enforce, but it still means that the intensity of controls will grow.”
“I’d guess that the way it will work out is that, as operators encounter problems and complaints, they’ll use this regulation to simply shut down users. It will be an excuse to shut down problem users,” Wang said.
Wang said the policy was likely to spread nationwide.
“Beijing has set an example that other areas will follow,” Wang said. “They don’t want to be seen as falling behind in regulation.”
Chinese microbloggers were quick to share their dismay at the new rules.
“This is a covert way of monitoring what people say and to control public opinion!” a user named “huitailang” wrote. “But think about it another way — if the subjects of heaven are full of complaints, that’s bad for social harmony and for our emperors.”