BEIJING — Chinese authorities imposed new restrictions on the country’s most popular mobile instant messaging services on Thursday, including rules meant to curb the sharing of unauthorized political news and information.
The State Internet Information Office said users with public accounts — including companies, organizations and celebrities — will be required to register using their real names and to sign a contract promising to “obey the law and uphold the socialist system,” the state-run Xinhua news agency reported. The rules also bar the posting or reposting of political news and current affairs without government approval.
Though the new regulations apply to all instant messaging services, they are widely believed to be aimed at WeChat, known in Chinese as Weixin. The immensely popular application allows mobile users to share text, audio, photos and video messages privately with individuals or small groups. WeChat, owned by Tencent Holdings, was begun three years ago and now has nearly 400 million active users in a typical month.
Officials have become increasingly wary of social media platforms that allow users to circulate information and opinions that reflect poorly on the state. Prominent Internet users who could steer public opinion are seen by the ruling Communist Party as a potentially serious threat. China Daily, a state-run newspaper, said the new restrictions would help “clean up the online environment and rein in rumormongers.”
The authorities confirmed on Thursday that they have also been blocking two South Korean-owned instant messaging services, KakaoTalk and Line, because of what they said were antiterrorism concerns. The services have been largely inaccessible in China for several weeks. [eap_ad_1] Many social media users have reacted with dismay to the new restrictions, and scoffed at government claims about its motives. “This has nothing to do with rumors and slander,” said Murong Xuecun, a novelist and popular Chinese blogger. “The real reason is there’s lot more freedom of speech and public information online these days, and that’s a fatal blow to a regime built on lies.”
How the new rules will affect WeChat is yet to be seen, but judging by the fallout from a 2013 crackdown on the Twitter-like microblog platform Sina Weibo, it may be substantial.
The police began detaining hundreds of influential Weibo commentators last August, many of them with millions of online fans. The commentators were charged with spreading falsehoods, some of them said to be politically damaging. Many Weibo users then switched to WeChat, which offers a comparatively private and freewheeling platform for users to schedule dinner plans, share salacious animated images — and joke about party leaders.
Tencent said in a statement that it had built multiple systems to silence rumors on the service and that it would move appropriately against copyright infringement, harassment, spam or “anything that defies national law and policies and social morals.” Since an earlier tightening of regulations in May, it has deleted thousands of articles and removed more than 400 public accounts from WeChat, Tencent said, along with shutting nearly 20 million accounts that it said were linked to prostitution.
It was not immediately clear how the new regulations would be enforced. “We don’t know the method yet,” said an employee at one social media company, who asked not to be identified to avoid retribution. “We just have to satisfy the government and make them feel it’s safe.” (NY Times)