China extends microblog real-name rule

Chinese government decrees microblog users in other areas must also register their real names with their microblog accounts, expanding last week's Beijing-only announcement.

After unveiling a regulation that required microblog users in Beijing to register their accounts with their real names, the Chinese government has now extended the regulation to include sites in other parts of China.

According to local news wire Xinhua, the publicity department of Guangdong province announced that seven major Web sites in the cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen must now register new users of their microblogging service based on their real names. The report noted that Tencent was one of the microblog operators named.

However, only new users--including individuals and institutions--need to register with their real identities and they can choose to use usernames instead of their actual names when posting on the Web sites, said the report.

Citing the government statement, Xinhua said the new regulations were made "in accordance with Chinese laws and regulations [to] foster healthy Internet culture, strengthen management and guide social networking services (SNS) and instant-messaging tools".

The Beijing government last week announced a new regulation requiring new and existing users to register their real names or risk facing legal repercussions. Existing microblogging users have three months to comply with the new legislation or face legal actions. 

Tong Liqiang, executive deputy director with the Beijing Internet Information Office (BIIO), said in the Xinhua report that Beijing's seven microblogging service providers currently have 600 million registered microblog user IDs, with Sina Weibo accounting for 280 million and Sohu with 120 million accounts.

However, according to data by the China Internet Network Information Center, Xinhua said there were 63 million microbloggers in China as of end-2010, representing 13.8 percent of its 457 million Internet users.

Observers told Xinhua the discrepancy showed that some users had multiple accounts or some IDs were dummies created to boost figures of the microblogging site's followers.

The news wire also noted that South Korea introduced a similar initiative requiring users to register online accounts with their real names. However, the rule was gradually phased out starting this August, following an online security breach which saw the information of 35 million users hijacked, according to Korean news agency Yonhap.