China in­creas­ingly tries to muz­zle its blog­gers

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - MEDIA& MARKETING -

BEI­JING: Bei­jing city au­thor­i­ties yes­ter­day is­sued new rules re­quir­ing mi­croblog­gers to reg­is­ter their real names be­fore post­ing online, as the Chi­nese govern­ment tight­ens its grip on the in­ter­net.

The city govern­ment now re­quires users of wei­bos – the Chi­nese ver­sion of Twit­ter – to give their real names to web­site ad­min­is­tra­tors, its of­fi­cial news por­tal said.

The new rules will ap­ply to weibo op­er­a­tors based in Bei­jing, which in­clude Sina – owner of China’s most pop­u­lar mi­croblog­ging ser­vice, which has more than 200 mil­lion users – as well as users liv­ing in the Chi­nese cap­i­tal.

Weibo users re­acted an­grily to the new rules, say­ing this was an at­tempt to muz­zle online crit­i­cism and de­bate.

“It is good to be re­spon­si­ble for one’s own com­ments but it should not be used as a tool to sup­press peo­ple’s rights,” a blog­ger called Yuyue Yuan­fei Ilu said in a post­ing.

An­other web user called V Luoluo said: “The rules are al­ways set against peo­ple. Do you dare to tell the truth af­ter the real-name sys­tem is im­ple­mented? Do you dare to of­fend some­one?”

Weibo op­er­a­tors “must es­tab­lish and im­prove a sys­tem of con­tent cen­sor­ship”, ac­cord­ing to the new rules, while users will have a le­gal duty to use their true iden­tity to reg­is­ter.

With more than half a bil­lion Chi­nese now online, au­thor­i­ties in Bei­jing are con­cerned about the power of the in­ter­net to in­flu­ence pub­lic opinion in a coun­try that main­tains tight con­trols on its tra­di­tional me­dia out­lets.

Or­di­nary Chi­nese are in­creas­ingly us­ing wei­bos to vent their anger and frus­tra­tion over of­fi­cial cor­rup­tion, scan­dals and dis­as­ters.

A weibo user is be­lieved to have bro­ken the news of a deadly high­speed rail crash in China in July that pro­voked wide­spread con­dem­na­tion of the govern­ment – much of it online.

This week, de­spite at­tempts to cen­sor the web and a vir­tual black­out in China’s state-run me­dia, wei­bos have buzzed with news of a protest in­volv­ing thou­sands of vil­lagers in the south­ern prov­ince of Guang­dong.

Res­i­dents in Wukan, which has been un­der po­lice block­ade, have posted in­for­ma­tion and pho­tos online of their daily ral­lies to de­mand jus­tice over land seizures and a lo­cal leader’s death.

“It’s about en­hanc­ing con­trol on the wei­bos. In all like­li­hood, this reg­is­tra­tion could make peo­ple more cau­tious,” David Ban­durski of the China Me­dia Project at the Univer­sity of Hong Kong, said.

Lead­ing in­ter­net and tech­nol­ogy firms have al­ready been pres­sured to tighten their grip on the web as Chi­nese lead­ers try to keep a lid on so­cial un­rest in the lead-up to a once-in-a-decade lead­er­ship tran­si­tion that be­gins next year.

Last month the heads of 40 com­pa­nies, in­clud­ing e-com­merce gi­ant Alibaba, search en­gine Baidu and Sina, vowed to stop the “spread of harm­ful in­for­ma­tion” on the web af­ter at­tend­ing a three-day govern­ment work­shop.

The sem­i­nar was held af­ter pro­pa­ganda chief Li Changchun, fifth in the Com­mu­nist Party hi­er­ar­chy, met the heads of China’s main search en­gine Baidu in Septem­ber.

That same month, the head of Sina said the web gi­ant had set up “ru­mour-curb­ing teams”, ap­par­ently in re­sponse to govern­ment pres­sure.

Au­thor­i­ties al­ready have the means to track down web users they be­lieve have bro­ken the law.

Ear­lier this month two men were de­tained in the cen­tral prov­ince of Hu­nan for “spread­ing a ru­mour” that thou­sands of po­lice of­fi­cers were de­ployed to guard a wed­ding con­voy.

State me­dia said the two men posted a video clip online show­ing scores of po­lice of­fi­cers and a wed­ding con­voy on a street, which later went vi­ral.

Of­fi­cials said that ju­di­cial po­lice of­fi­cers were ac­tu­ally train­ing at a base in Hu­nan, and hap­pened to pass a wed­ding con­voy on their way out.

The in­ter­net has posed a huge chal­lenge to govern­ment at­tempts to block con­tent it deems po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive through a cen­sor­ship sys­tem known as the “Great Fire­wall”.

The num­ber of weibo users has more than tre­bled since the end of 2010, ac­cord­ing to govern­ment data, and the speed with which they have taken off has made it im­pos­si­ble for cen­sors to keep up.

Calls to Sina, Netease and Sohu – two other Bei­jing-based weibo op­er­a­tors – went unan­swered. – SAPA-AFP

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