Confusion Follows China ‘Real Name’ Policy Deadline for Microblogs

A new policy in China that requires microblog, or weibo, users to register with their real names went into effect last week.  Despite a large online outcry before the March 16 deadline, the new measure appears to be having a limited effect.  

Many users on China’s popular Twitter-like microblogging sites such as Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo say they can still post messages online without registering with their real names and government identification numbers.

Although users say applications for new members are being denied if they fail to provide the required information, some bloggers are finding a way around the requirement.  One opponent to the policy, a blogger who goes by the name of Jdxing, said there is already a computer program that generates fake identification numbers to help microbloggers remain anonymous.

China says the real name policy is intended to limit the spread of rumors online and to protecting users.

Communications expert Mike Yao, with the City University of Hong Kong, said, “There are a lot of unanswered questions as to why or how this policy will be implemented and why it was implemented to begin with.  My sense is that it is also politically motivated to curb expressions related to political issues as well.”

Microblogs have become wildly popular in China in recent years, and state media reports that there are more than 300 million registered users.

These sites are a major source of commentary in China on a wide range of topics.  Online postings played a key role in breaking news and serving as an outlet for disgust with the government, after a high-speed train wreck last year killed 40 people.

Much like Twitter and others outside China, these sites are a place for Internet users to express their views about local issues and discuss matters such as life, love and the weather.

Christopher Walker with the U.S.-based human rights monitoring group Freedom House, said “Anonymity has allowed open expression in large measure, at least far-less restrictive than other media in the country.  And the requirement now being imposed of real name identity, removes that freedom. It’s having a larger impact in suppressing users who are worried.  But most importantly, it’s going to have an impact on those who found the microblogging option to be particularly useful and valuable for communicating on more relevant and politically consequential issues that aren't so often able to comment in such a way on other media.”

On the social networking site Google Plus, Chinese student Michael Lee told VOA that although he still can post messages on Sina Weibo, he is angry and sad about the new policy.  He says he fears the real name requirement will limit the type of discussions that made the online service appealing and allowed people to share their true thoughts.   

Although it was the Beijing government that began the push to tighten controls on the media, service providers have been working with authorities to implement the new policy.

Early last month, China’s four key weibo companies - Sina, Sohu, NetEase and Tencent - not the government, announced the March 16 deadline for real name identity.

Mike Yao said that given the nature of relationships between the government and big companies in China, particularly companies involved in information and media, such a move is not a surprise. “The government of China is highly motivated to control the speech and communications online, on the Internet.  So I don’t think that is an option.  And maybe there will be some smaller companies who initially can get away with it [i.e., not adopt the policy].  But very quickly, if they have enough users, they will be forced to implement such policies.”

Although it is unclear how strictly the policy will be enforced, Walker said it will have an impact. “One of the lessons we’ve learned in recent years with the censorship strategy used by the Chinese authorities is that they don’t seek to block everything.  They seek to manage and interfere with, and where necessary block, what they deem to be meaningful," he said.

That is one reason why Michael Lee, a Sina Weibo user, says he has decided to switch to an overseas social media service.  He says that not only do microblogs in China delete postings, but also the government has people who routinely pose as regular users online and criticize anyone who opposes the government.  Lee says, from his point of view, freedom of expression is more important.

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: There is No Confusion
March 25, 2012 12:42 PM
Increased attempts to limit freedom of speech and to control the press, the Internet, and Internet access. Efforts to silence political activists and public interest lawyers were stepped up, and increasingly the government resorted to extralegal measures including enforced disappearance, "soft detention," and strict house arrest, including house arrest of family members, to prevent the public voicing of independent opinions.

by: Wangchuk
March 23, 2012 6:10 AM
This is part of CCP's plan to control political content on internet in China & to monitor dissent. It violates China's Constitution but CCP considers itself above the law & Constitution. Political freedoms in China, Tibet & Xinjiang have deteriorated greatly since 2008.

by: pass by
March 21, 2012 6:12 PM
any news about politics rumors will be deleted in time.if you wanna express something against Government,take care of your words!

by: Joey
March 21, 2012 12:42 PM
"...(the) policy is intended to limit the spread of rumors online."

This is fascinating, a problem created by too much government control of news media, creating an appetite for any other news, will be solved by more tight controls of alternatives. A brilliant construct.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs