China’s Crackdown on Internet Anonymity: Tell Us Your Real Name Or Stay Off the Microblogs

Have VPN, will Facebook.

photo Chinas Crackdown on Internet Anonymity: Tell Us Your Real Name Or Stay Off the Microblogs

Warning for dissidents at the Happy Dragon.

Yesterday, China’s authoritarian government unveiled yet another set of restrictions that might soon be levied on Internet users. In a document prepared by the National Internet Information Office (a division of China’s “powerful” State Council), the authorities proposed forcing users to register with their official ID card before they can log on to the country’s microblogging sites, which are called “weibo” in China. The new rule would also require an official ID for “all the blogs and online forums,” says PC World.

As Reuters notes, the country has been escalating censorship of Internet users over the past few months as the country gets ready for a leadership transition, which happens once a decade.

In the past, China has censored content by deleting posts or blocking sites that publish government critiques. Authorities have even detained citizens for allegedly spreading rumors. But despite the restrictions, the country’s microblogging scene is “boisterous,” says Reuters. Sites like Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo have been used to “voice controversial opinions and expose sensitive news,” adds PC World. Both have more than 300 million registered users.

The policy might tricky to enforce, however, and designed more to shift liability to the sites themselves. “I’m not sure that the government wants to be drastic,” Duncan Clark, chairman of consultancy firm BDA China told PCWorld. “I think they want to hang this over the heads of the companies and use it to pressure them into compliance.”

Betabeat just returned from a glorious 10-day tour around Eastern China ourselves. And most of the citizens/ex-pats we ran into used VPNs to easily skirt restrictions on Facebook and Twitter. Locals told us the authorities were quick to shut down the two services after the Arab Spring. Indeed, as the New York Times reported back in 2011, political unrest in the Middle East prompted the Chinese government to start requiring shops that offer free Wifi to install web monitoring software.

The new restrictions are still in proposal phase. Reuters says that the draft is “open for public comment” until July 6th. We’re guessing that requires an ID card too.