China expands micro-blogging 'online accountability' regulation

Chinese authorities have announced plans to expand their trials of the newly revealed 'real name' regulation, which attempts to enforce online accountability, raising concerns over censorship.
Written by Hana Stewart-Smith, Contributor

Chinese authorities are planning to expand their trial of the newly recently revealed 'real name' regulation, announced a few days ago.

The 'real name' regulation, one of 16 rules for the countries microblogging websites, is designed to increase online accountability.

Microbloggers in China will be forced to verify their accounts with official ID under the regulation. The Chinese government revealed that testing already began late last year in the initial cities covered by the rule; Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, Guangzhou, and Shenzen.

Presently the countries major microblogs are 'under maintenance' or displaying 'beta' banners indicating they are still under testing, despite having been established for months.

After this initial testing period it will be expanded to other parts of the country, according to Wang Chen, head of China's State Council Information Office.

"Microblogging is a new medium that can spread information rapidly and have a big influence. It covers a wide population and can mobilise people," Chen explained.

Although there's been no official timetable given for the expansion of this rule, the government initially stated that Weibo users had a three-month window to verify their accounts, leading to speculation that full implementation might be slated for March.

The mandatory regulation has raised continued concerns over censorship in China; although services like Google+ and Sina, China's biggest microblog provider, already insist and encourage upon the use of 'real names', membership is voluntary.

Under this regulation users of all microblogs would face the same scrutiny. For those that favour anonymity in order to discuss or report on topics that might otherwise be censored, this would force them to face accountability in the eyes of the Chinese government.

Considering that a woman was charged with a year in a labour camp just for retweeting an activist message, these concerns are certainly not unfounded.

Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are already blocked in China, and the Internet is censored for anti-government content.

Although Twitter and other social networks have been cited as having a role in social disturbances like the London riots, a 'real name' regulation is still a huge project to implement with worrying consequences.


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