The Chinese government under president Xi Jinping is continuing to make life on the internet difficult for its potential detractors. Yesterday (Aug. 25), the country’s highest internet regulator released new rules (link in Chinese) that govern who can post what online. The upshot: anonymity on the Chinese internet is just about dead.
The new rules are the most recent instance of the Cyberspace Administration of China’s (CAC) efforts to enforce “real-name registration,” which aims to severely limit internet activity for users who do not provide identifying information. There are already rules in place that require using your real name to register for WeChat, mobile phone numbers, Weibo, and other services for a few years. But the latest rules target the relatively unruly world of online communities and discussion forums.
“For users who have not given identifying information, platforms for and providers of online communities may not allow posting of any kind,” the announcement declares. It adds that, on these platforms, “no content may appear that is prohibited by national regulations.” (Those are my translations; I tried to keep intact the confusing language often used in these Chinese government announcements.) The CAC announcement also requires these platforms to “investigate thoroughly” any users they think may be using fake names and retain all user data for government inspection.
With the major online platforms like WeChat and Weibo already censored and operating under real-name registration rules, forums provide some of the few remaining places where it is possible to be anonymous on the Chinese internet. Tieba—the largest of such forums and often the origin of nationalist political activism—was given the real-name treatment by its parent company, Baidu, just a few months ago. The new rules, which take effect October 1, will extend those controls to smaller forums.
Under China’s previous leader, Hu Jintao, expression on the internet flourished in spite of censorship. Now, under Xi Jinping, the censors appear to be winning. These latest regulations follow a crackdown on VPNs—long the easiest way to browse the web uncensored—and the announcement that the country’s three largest internet companies were under investigation for not adequately controlling what users say on their platforms.
So what exactly constitutes forbidden topics on the Chinese internet? An unnamed CAC official told a journalist the following when asked about the new rules (first translated by The Diplomat):
- opposing the principles of the constitution of China
- endangering national security, revealing state secrets, subverting state power, and undermining national reunification
- damaging national honor and interests
- inciting national hatred, ethnic discrimination, and undermining national unity
- undermining the state’s policies on religion or promoting cults and feudal superstitions
- spreading rumors or disrupting social order
- spreading obscenity, pornography, violence, or terror, or abetting a crime
- insulting or slandering others and infringing upon the lawful rights and interests of others
- violating any other laws and regulations
Good luck avoiding all of those.