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China: Tightened Controls on Microblogging, Including Real Name Requirement

(Feb. 8, 2012) On February 7, 2012, it was reported that China's four major microblogging (weibo) websites —, Sohu, NetEase, and Tencent — will institute a real-name identification system on March 16, 2012. Current users who have not yet carried out identity registration and real name authentication after that date will only be able to browse the sites and not text or transmit messages. The microblog services will adopt the “foreground voluntary, background real name” approach, whereby old and new users alike must go through real name authentication, but they may choose whether or not to make public their real names on open webpages. (Total Real Name System for Microblogs, Mainland Internet Users Dissatisfied [in Chinese], EPOCH TIMES (Feb. 7, 2012).) Also on February 7, mobile phone users received a text message notifying them of the launch of the real ID authentication service and requesting that they register at before March 16.

Late last year and earlier in 2012 the authorities were already taking steps to tighten control over the “relatively freewheeling microblogging world” in a few major cities. (Keith B. Richburg, Another Writer Sentenced as China's Crackdown Continues, THE WASHINGTON POST (Jan.19, 2012).) Thus, municipal provisions issued by Beijing require those who sign up for a microblog account “to register with their real names and identity card numbers, making it easier to trace them if they post something the government doesn't like.” (Richburg, supra.; see also Keith B. Richburg, China Moves to Rein in Microblogs, THE WASHINGTON POST (Oct. 4, 2011); Andrew Jacobs, Well-Oiled Security Apparatus in China Stifles Calls for Change, THE NEW YORK TIMES (Feb. 28, 2011).)

These rules, Certain Provisions of Beijing Municipality on the Development and Management of Microblogging (adopted on December 16, 2011) are aimed at the city's microblogging services and their users. (Beijing shi weiboke fazhan guanli ruogan guiding (quan wen) [Chinese text of the Provisions], art. 2, PEOPLE.COM.CN (Dec. 16, 2012).) The city will formulate microblogging services development plans and stipulate the total number, structure, and disposition of microblog services' websites that are launched (id. art. 5). Before applying for a telecommunications business operating license or going through the filing procedure for a non-business Internet information service, a microblogging service that a website launches within the city's administrative districts is to submit an application to the department in charge of the city's Internet information content and go through an examination and approval process (id. art. 6). Article 9 of the Provisions is on the real name system:

Any organization or individual who registers for a microblogging account, and makes, duplicates, or propagates information content, should use real identification information, and cannot register by using false or fraudulent citizens' identification information, corporate registration information, or organizations' institutional code information to carry out registration.

In launching microblogging services, websites should guarantee the veracity of registered users' information stipulated in the previous paragraph. (Id.)

The Provisions also prohibit organizations or individuals from unlawfully using microblogs to make, duplicate, issue, or propagate information that contains content that:

1) violates basic principles recognized in the Constitution;

2) endangers state security, leaks state secrets, subverts the state's political power, or damages the unity of the state;

3) harms the state's reputation and interests;

4) incites ethnic group hatred or discrimination, or damages ethnic group cooperation;

5) damages the state religious policies or publicizes cults and feudal superstitions;

6) spreads rumors, disrupts social order, or damages social stability;

7) spreads obscenity, pornography, gambling, violence, or terrorism, or abets the commission of crimes;

8) humiliates or slanders other people, infringing on others' lawful rights;

9) incites illegal assembly, association, parade, demonstration, or gatherings that disrupt(s) social order;

10) is about activities in the name of illegal nongovernment organizations; or

11) contains other content prohibited by law or administrative regulations. (Id. art. 10; see also, e.g., Electronic Message Board Terms of Agreement [in Chinese], BAIDU (last visited Feb. 8, 2012) [contains similar list of prohibited content].)

Over the last year in particular, the courts have meted out harsh sentences to human rights activists who have been active in making their views known online. The courts' actions are viewed by some observers as a troublesome sign of an intensifying crackdown on dissidents by the government in advance of the one-year anniversary in February of the anonymous online calls for “Jasmine Revolution” rallies in China. The crackdown is also taking place before the delicate Chinese Communist Party leadership transition due to occur in 2012. (Sui-Lee Wee, China Hands 10 Years to Writer for Subversion, REUTERS (Jan. 19, 2012).)

The 2011 online calls for protests in various Chinese cities to oppose Chinese Communist Party rule, reportedly posted by a website in the United States, were promptly met with a crackdown by police. In “the wave of detentions and disappearances” the police “pre-emptively swept up many of the nation's best-known rights lawyers but also low-profile activists who simply forwarded the protest calls on their microblogs”; nearly two dozen persons were detained and 11 others were said to have disappeared into police custody. (Andrew Jacobs, Chinese Democracy Activist Is Given 10-Year Sentence, THE NEW YORK TIMES (Mar. 25, 2011).)