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LinkAsia | Mar 4
A side effect of rapid industrialization and few regulations, China's rivers are often treated as little more than sewers. But as LinkAsia contribu...
Now in other news, China's censorship regime is about to get a wee bit stronger, or maybe I should say "wei" bit stronger. Users of Chinese micro-blogs, also known as weibo, will soon be required to use their real names to register on Chinese micro-blogging sites. Beijing contributor Charlie Custer explains what this means.
Since it first came to China, the growth in micro-blogging has been enormous. China has 600 million internet users, and most of them are on micro-blogs. But fears about rampant rumor-mongering and speech that's just a little bit too free led regulators to mandate a real-name registration system. And now the clock is finally approaching zero hour. Although new users on micro-blogging sites like Sina Weibo have had to register their real names for a few months now, existing users have been allowed to remain anonymous. In China, real-name registration doesn't mean that users have to use their real names. They can continue to use the screen names they've been using anonymously, but they have to file their actual name and their state ID number with their micro-blogging provider. Ostensibly, the purpose for this is to confirm that they're real people and that their account is not a spam account. But it also allows the government to hold them legally responsible for anything that they say online, including politically critical speech.
One user wrote:
"If common people have to fear being 'disciplined' and 'warned' when they speak, that is a scary step backward for society, like we're learning from the good North Korean example."
In fact, real-name registration is becoming something of a fad even outside the world of micro-blogs. One weibo user bemoaned the trend with a long list of the things that now require real names from micro-blogs to train tickets to buying cooking knives and then ended with this sarcastic comment:
"I suggest that government officials' property and lovers should also have a real-name system and that they be publicly displayed."
Plenty of users are optimistic about the potential for the real-name registration to cut down on spam, but it's not clear how effective the system will really be. Some analysts have suggested that it may produce a black market for identities, much like the one that exists now for mobile phone numbers. For many shops, at a small fee, it remains possible to buy a SIM card using someone else's identity. But no one really knows how things will turn out past the March 16th deadline. It's expected to have a major impact on user activity across all of China's micro-blogging platforms. But as the date approaches, there are rumblings that some services may not make the deadline. Regardless, real-name registration is coming, and anonymity on the internet in China may soon be a thing of the past. In Beijing, I'm Charlie Custer for LinkAsia.
Sina, which has the country's largest number of weibo users, predicts that 40 percent of its micro-bloggers will fall silent after the deadline.