An online announcement in China has ordered all microblog companies registered in Beijing to enforce real name registration within three months. The tightening rules are a bid to control the microblogs gaining influence and the speed at which they share information.
The latest summer figures have identified almost 500 million internet users in China, more than any other country in the world. Government officials have warned that further, tighter new guidelines are on their way for October 2012.
Attempts by UK Prime Minister David Cameron to place tighter controls and even shut down social media platform Twitter during the summer riots had failed. But Chinese officials are determined to implement the new rules with growing concern about the number of people using the internet to spread lies, rumours and mobilise potentially destabilising protest movements. Social media sites particularly worry China’s Communist leadership with the ability of users to challenge the party’s existing internet censorship tools. In 2009, Facebook and Twitter were banned in China after their instrumental use in anti-government protests in Iran.
Since then, China has cultivated home grown alternatives believing that they would be more pliable to the government’s agenda such as Sina Weibo. Sina Weibo has 250 million users and China has increased the punishment for internet users who spread allegedly false or harmful content. As a result, user activity on Sina Weibo has declined.
The new rules were jointly issued by the government, police and internet management office. Regulations follow the past pattern that China has always used to regulate the internet industry. Allow new services to establish, observe their impact and then set up a regulatory structure.