China has tightened rules regulating the use of instant messengers, forcing users to reveal their real names when registering so their identities can be linked to their content.
In much the same way as with social networks – although clearly for different reasons – the State Internet Information Office (SIIO) is requiring users to sign up with their real names so they can later be held responsible for what they say on popular services like WeChat and Laiwang.
The office told state media mouthpiece Xinhua that the rules were to “safeguard national security and public interests”.
Social networks and IM are often used in China to discuss political issues and criticise the government. IM services in the country offer public accounts to which users can subscribe, allowing people to reach wide numbers of people in one go. While the accounts are aimed at businesses and celebrities, they’re also used by Chinese bloggers, particularly since a similar crackdown on social media two years ago.
According to Xinhua, there are 5.8 million public accounts on mobile apps like WeChat and anyone who owns or registers one of these will be required to provide their real names and be reviewed by the firm behind the service before being qualified to release information.
"A few people are using the platforms to disseminate information related to terrorism, violence and pornography as well as slander and rumours," said Jiang Jun, spokesman of the SIIO. "Such behaviours have raised bitter feelings among netizens."
The regulation requires people to abide by the socialist system, public order and social morality as well as only posting authentic information. The SIIO said that service providers would be held responsible and would be supervised by the government in order to “handle illegal information in a timely manner”.
"Cyberspace cannot become a space full of disorder and hostility," Jiang said. "No country in the world allows dissemination of information of rumors, violence, cheating, sex and terrorism."
The government has enforced similar regulations for the Chinese Twitter equivalent Weibo since 2012. According to guidelines hammered out in the country’s Supreme Court after the rules were brought in, people whose posts reach more than 5,000 users or get retweeted more than 500 times can be subject to defamation charges if the content is deemed to be rumours. Users will face up to three years in prison for the offence. ®