China expands real-name registration to microblogging

 Published: 1/18/2012 10:36:04 AM GMT
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China will expand real-name registration for microblog users, a senior propaganda official has said. Authorities have grown increasingly concerned about the speed with which information and allegations can spread on the Twitter-like services, which have more than 300m registered users in China.

Last month, the Beijing municipal government said users would have three months to register their real identities or face the consequences.

"Currently, this type of registration is being tested in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. We will extend it to other areas once the pilot programmes prove successful," said Wang Chen, minister of the State Council Information Office.

"We will focus on newly registering users and then extend it to existing microbloggers."

He added: "Microblogging is a new medium that can spread information rapidly and have a big influence. It covers a wide population and can mobilise people."

He said the growth of services had been "explosive" and that microblogs could help officials to understand the social situation and public opinion, spread positive opinion and improve their information services. Authorities were committed to becoming more open and had launched their own accounts.

But he warned that while authorities welcomed the benefits of new media, "We also need to control the spread of rumours undermining social stability; harmful, for example pornographic, information; and illegal conduct for commercial purposes."

A spate of recent official commentaries have attacked online "rumours", with one editorial describing them as "worse than cocaine".

Beijing-based internet analyst Bill Bishop said the move was no surprise.

"They tried real-name registration with cell phones – that was harder because there were so many retailers. They tried it with online games, but that was more about protecting kids," he said.

"This is a whole different level. It is a much more serious thing and it is not that difficult for the government to enforce it; there are only two providers that matter."

Although sensitive content is removed from microblogs, and words or phrases can be blacklisted so people cannot post them, the popularity and ease of using the services means censors have often struggled to keep up with users posting reports of protests or attacking officials.

Many users fear that real-name registration will make it even easier for officials to track down and punish people posting sensitive content, such as attacks on officials, while others are concerned about the security risks it poses.

South Korea was the first country to adopt real-name registration, but recent media reports have suggested it now plans to phase the system out after hackers exposed the personal details of millions of internet users.

In an article for the state-run website last month, Gong Wen, a visiting scholar at the School of Journalism and Communication at Tsinghua University, warned: "Real-name registration seems to be the easiest way for government to regulate Weibo, but it may endanger netizens' personal safety. Therefore, more should be done for both government and internet companies to strengthen cyber security before rushing to enforce real-name registration. We're still not ready."


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