China has secretely issued orders, now being carried out, that news sites collect real names and ID numbers from users seeking to comment on stories, The New York Times reports.
The change has been in effect since early August at major news portals like Sina, Netease and Sohu, although the Times' Jonathan Asfield was able to log on to different sites with fake information.
The stated rationale for the new policy: improving users' "social responsibility" and "civility." But the secretive conditions of the new rules raise questions about whether substantial new restrictions are on the way. Authorities moved forward surreptitiously and suppressed reports about it, said the editors and others in the media industry familiar with the measure, the Times reported.
Asked why the policy was pushed through unannounced, the chief editor of one site said, “The influence of public opinion on the Net is still too big.”
Presumably, authorities have a bitter taste in their mouths from the Green Dam-Youth Escort fiasco, in which the government had to retreat from public orders requiring filtering software to be installed on all new computers sold in the country.
The authorities had aimed to avoid a similar showdown over the new real-name requirement. “We had no recourse to challenge it,” said the news editor of another portal. Ta Kung Pao, a Hong Kong-based newspaper loyal to Beijing, first leaked news of the State Council edict in late July. But the report was scrubbed from the paper’s Web site within a few days. Another state newspaper tried to follow up on the Ta Kung Pao report soon thereafter, the paper’s editors said, but they were forced to abort their article because they were warned that the order was a state secret.
But both editors at two of the major portals affected said their sites had shown marked drop-offs.