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January 17, 2012

China to Require Microblog Users to Register Using Real Names

China's top Internet regulator says Beijing will soon require all users of microblogs to register under their real names to post comments online.

Wang Chen, who heads China's State Council Information Office, said Wednesday increased Internet monitoring is necessary in order to prevent the spread of harmful information.

"We must impose control and management measures on some phenomena on the Internet, such as inventing rumors, damaging social stability, delivering bad information such as pornography, and even conducting illegal commercial activity," said Wang.

Last month, Beijing and several other major Chinese cities began a trial program requiring all new microblogs users to disclose their identities to the government. Wang said the program will be expanded to include all of China's estimated 250 million microblog users.

Chinese officials acknowledge that social media can be used positively. But a massive increase in Internet usage has posed a challenge to government attempts to control information.

Earlier this week, China announced that its number of Internet users had risen to 513 million, making it the largest online population in the world.

Though popular foreign websites such as Facebook and Twitter are blocked, about half of China's online population uses local equivalents, known as weibos.

Activists have condemned Beijing's decision to expand the real-name registry program, saying it could convince users to refrain from posting comments that are critical of the government.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.