New regulations from the Cyberspace Administration of China require internet platforms to verify users’ identities before allowing them to post online content or comments. The rules, which come into effect on October 1, follow and formalize a years-long series of other real name registration requirements. According to the CAC, the “Regulation on the Management of Internet Posts and Comment Services” (互联网跟帖评论服务管理规定) is “launched to thoroughly implement the spirit of the Cybersecurity Law,” which was passed in June amid criticism from foreign tech firms and rights advocates. AFP reports:
The platforms will also have to strengthen their oversight over all published information, deleting all illegal content while also alerting authorities to the postings.
[…] China already had laws requiring companies to verify a user’s identity but it was applied in a fragmented and incomplete way.
But forcing online posters to identify themselves — which will probably require scanning a government-issued ID as proof of identity — makes it much more difficult to post online anonymously.
[…] The new regulation was adopted as part of a cybersecurity law that took effect in June, which bans internet users from publishing a wide variety of information.
That covers anything that damages “national honour”, “disturbs economic or social order” or is aimed at “overthrowing the socialist system”. [Source]
More details on the new CAC regulation, as well as coverage of a tandem set of CAC guidelines requiring real name verification for BBS forums, from Sixth Tone’s Wang Lianzhang:
The move targets all kinds of websites where users can leave their opinions, including comments that scroll over videos, known as danmu in Chinese. Beginning in October, only netizens who have verified identities linked to their real names will be able to add messages on Chinese web pages, though they will still be able to pick their own usernames.
[…T]he CAC said that websites should have a team of employees to review comments and deal with “illegal information,” but that these monitors should not interfere with public opinion by selectively deleting or recommending posts. The regulations also forbid employing people or using software to leave comments — a practice called shuijun.
Comments sections are popular features of many news portals, such as Tencent News and NetEase, whose articles typically receive thousands of remarks.
China Law Translate has provided an English-translation of the latter mentioned “Provisions on the Management of Internet Forum Community Services” (互联网论坛社区服务管理规定).
Covering the newly announced regulations on internet comments at Global Voices, Oiwan Lam translates the official justification of the new rules (via Xinhua), as well as several comments highlighting some web-users’ suspicion that they are simply further measures to control online speech:
[Xinhua’s justification:] “The Internet can be borderless, but comments should have boundaries. If there are no principles, freedom can turn into “terror”; without management, indulgence could harm the development of the [online] industry. If we continue to indulge [netizens], online comments might become a swell of negative energy and the “poisonous grass” of cyberspace.”
[…] Below are some of the critical comments gathered from various discussion threads on Weibo that have survived the cull:
“With or without real name registration, they know who you are. What they intend to do is to make you fearful.”
“I always use my real name. It is you [the authorities] who are afraid of opening up the comment thread.”
“[Authorities] are shameless in their desire for stability.” [Source]
Lam also translates an excerpt from tech-blogger William Long, who explains how the costs of hiring real name verification staff will force smaller websites to ban comments altogether: “Good. Because banning comments is the [government’s] objective.”
During his tenure, Xi Jinping has steadily unveiled policies restricting online speech. In recent months, the releases of new restrictions have increased as political sensitivities heighten in the lead-up to the 19th Party Congress later this year. Early this month, the Ministry of Public Security ordered a three-hour “shutdown drill” to test a newly developed “one-key shutdown” emergency response method for closing down “harmful” websites. The drill came as authorities had been reining in web-users’ access to the virtual private networks (VPNs) long used to bypass the Great Firewall by savvy netizens and multinational companies (and, occasionally by Great Firewall architect Fang Binxing). At Foreign Policy last week, James Palmer examined Beijing’s motives for restricting VPN services, explaining how “these paranoid demands could end up hamstringing the country’s economic and technological ambitions, leaving it stuck in a pit of its own making.” At China Policy Institute: Analysis, network security expert Omair Uthmani warned Western readers to heed VPN crackdowns in countries like China and Russia, as new laws in Western countries are similarly allowing governments to monitor and limit citizens’ internet connections.