Reuters reports that Sina expects 60% of users of its Weibo service to meet a March 16th real name verification deadline, suggesting that the requirement will gain greater traction than a similar attempt to regulate mobile phone usage in 2010.
In December, the Beijing city government issued rules giving microblog operators based in the city, which include Sina, three months to ensure users register their real identities.
Users must link their mobile phone numbers to their Weibo account and only those verified will be allowed to post messages. Sina has said the regulations would hurt the platform.
The real-name requirement was one focus of Chinese Human Rights Defenders’ 2011 report (PDF), released last week. Almost half of the activists surveyed by the organisation said that they used Sina Weibo in their work on a daily basis, and reported tangible successes achieved through doing so, particularly in quickly spreading word of detentions. But growing numbers of account closures have forced many to ‘reincarnate’, a recourse which the real name policy is intended to block.
The most alarming development in 2011 [in terms of online controls] was the government’s introduction of the requirement that microbloggers use their real names when registering to open an account. The thriving domestic microblogsphere has proved highly effective in exposing government misconduct during the past few years, but it is now threatened with curtailment as a result of this requirement. After much speculation about its introduction, it was announced at the end of the year that it would be implemented in Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. Since the two main internet companies operating microblogs in China—Sina and Tencent—are based in Beijing and Shenzhen, the new measure is likely to affect most of China’s 250 million registered microblog users …. (p.14)
Given the logistical difficulties, some observers question whether the government will succeed in pushing ahead with the “real-name registration” measure. A similar effort to control the use of cell phones in 2010 went largely unenforced;38 small vendors of SIM cards, for example, bypassed the registration system as it negatively effected their business. However, microblogs are operated by several giant internet companies who have a strong track record of avoiding trouble by complying with censorship requirements. (p.15)