Sina Weibo’s New Rules

A moderator account (“Weibo Secretary” [微博小秘书]) on China’s popular microblog Sina Weibo recently made public the draft of a “Community Convention” [zh] with the following tweet: 

Weibo Secretary: Dear netizens, in order to maintain order in the Weibo community, we are establishing open and transparent mechanisms to deal with violators of our regulations. Today we are issuing the “ Community Convention (Trial)”, along with the “Community Management Regulations (Trial)” and the “Community Committee System (Trial).” The above regulations will take effect on May 28th, 2012, at which time corresponding features will go live. Order is something that we all must work together to maintain. Read the new policies in their entirety at http://t.cn/zO8hGBj

Since this tweet went up on May 8th at 3pm Beijing time, there have been over 30,000 comments. The Wall Street Journal’s Josh Chin surveys public reaction to the announcement:

Among the thousands of users who responded to the draft document, many said they approved, with some arguing that the proposed set of rules would help manage what they said was an increasing proliferation of rumors and obscene content on the website. “Preserving the good atmosphere on Sina Weibo requires everyone to work hard together,” wrote angel investor Cai Wensheng, who boasts more than 3.5 million followers.

Sina Weibo celebrity and former head of Google’s China operations Kai-Fu Lee also put himself in the approval camp, responding with a simple: “Agree, support!”

Others weren’t so sure. Among those who appeared to hedge was real estate mogul Pan Shiyi, who said it was good to have rules to refer to but added a question: “Does this mean there won’t be any more arbitrary take-downs?”

Still others actively attacked Sina’s new regulations for aping the deliberately vague officialese found in government legal documents, arguing that the definitions of disallowed content are broad enough to legitimize almost any act of . “All this does is provide an excuse for arbitrary take-downs,” real estate executive Sun Xuguang wrote in response to Mr. Pan.

[...]Another user, meanwhile, had a suggestion for a much simpler solution: “Isn’t there a list of sensitive words you can give to everyone so they can consult it before posting?”

After Sina’s failed attempt to fully implement the state regulated “real-name registration” policy, these conventions are the latest step to codify and control sensitive online content in an effort to thwart a government crackdown on the site. Caijing English has translated and published the entire mandate for , paying special attention to Article 13, the section hazily defining sensitive content:

In Article 13, the contract lists nearly ten kinds of information users are not allowed to publish on Weibo, including that “harms the unity, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of the nation” and that “spreads rumors, disrupts social order, and destroys societal stability.”

[...]Article 13) Users have the right to publish information, but may not publish any information that:

1.Opposes the basic principles established by the constitution
2.Harms the unity, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of the nation
3.Reveals national secrets, endangers national security, or threatens the the honor or interests of the nation
4.Incites ethnic hatred or ethnic discrimination, undermines ethnic unity, or harms ethnic traditions and customs
5.Promotes evil teachings and superstitions
6.Spreads rumors, disrupts social order, and destroys societal stability
7.Promotes illicit activity, gambling, violence, or calls for the committing of crimes
8.Calls for disruption of social order through illegal gatherings, formation of organizations, protests, demonstrations, mass gatherings and assemblies
9.Has other content which is forbidden by laws, administrative regulations and national regulations.

This is not the first time that Sina has altered its operating policy to satisfy the state. When recent rumors of a coup in Beijing began spreading after the sacking of former Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai, Sina temporarily disabled their comment feature upon state orders. While cyberspace may always be seen as a breeding ground for rumors and sensitive content, government paranoia is mounting in an atmosphere of political instability and as the (possibly postponed) once-in-a-decade leadership transition approaches.

Also see prior CDT coverage of censorship, self-censorship, and Sina Weibo. For more on sensitive content, see CDT’s “Sensitive Words” series.