Always read the comments: Beijing requires oversight of all reader-generated chat

'Editing and review' teams will be required to read everything and report dissent

The Cyberspace Administration of China has announced a policy requiring all comments made to websites to be approved before publication.

Outlined in a document published last Friday and titled "Provisions on the Administration of Internet Thread Commenting Services", the policy is aimed at making China's internet safer, and better represent citizens' interests. The Administration believes this can only happen if comments are reviewed so that only posts that promote socialist values and do not stir dissent make it online.

To stop the nasties being published, the policy outlines requirements for publishers to hire "a review and editing team suitable for the scale of services".

Those teams will be required to review each and every comment before it is published, and – if they detect "illegal and bad information" – report it to the Administration.

Another requirement calls for the improvement of complaint mechanisms, so that members of the public can also report comments they feel deserve attention from the review and edit teams.

The document further requires sites that offer comments to collect and verify account holders' real names – suggesting that actual real-world consequences may follow posting comments that Beijing opposes.

The guidelines appeared after China's censors clamped down on comment critical of government conduct during recent COVID-19 lockdowns in the nation's big cities. Those lockdowns restricted most movement for weeks at a time and saw often modest food parcels distributed to residents. The length and severity of the lockdowns saw many citizens complain online. Lockdowns also saw some citizens forcibly moved to field hospitals, and some pets killed.

Young Chinese, meanwhile, have rallied around a concept of being China's "last generation" – a phrase that expresses frustration with China's zero-COVID stance and the lockdowns it creates, as well as the high cost of living that many regard as making it impossible to start a family or buy a home.

Another celebrated recent act of government intervention saw Austin Li – a prominent, popular and prolific host of live streamed advertorials who achieved celebrity status – taken offline after depicting a cake shaped like a tank the day before the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre.

China's government has attempted to erase the events of June 4, 1989, from history. Li surely knew he was tempting fate with even an oblique reference to the fact that China's government used tanks and troops to suppress and kill protestors on that day.

Now every Chinese netizen has been reminded that they have good reason to remain silent on myriad topics. ®

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