China steps up online controls with a new rule for bloggers

Ma Xiaolin often wrote about current affairs in a major Chinese microblogging sites, where it has 2 million followers. But recently, the Weibo said in a post site called and asked him not to post original content on topics ranging from from politics to economic and military issues.

“As an international affairs researcher and columnist, it appears that now I can only follow the path of entertainment, food and drink,” the international relations professor wrote on Jan.31.

Ma, who has often posted on developments in the Middle East, is one of many popular influencers working within the confines of China’s heavily censored web who is finding that their space to talk is shrinking further with the latest policy changes and a cleaning campaign. by the powerful censors of the country. He declined an interview request.

Starting next week, the Cyberspace Administration of China will require bloggers and influencers to have government-approved credentials before they can post on a wide range of topics. Some fear that only state media and official propaganda accounts will get permission. Although permits have been required since at least 2017 to write on topics like political and military affairs, the application has not been widespread. The new rules extend this requirement to health, economic, educational and judicial issues.

“Regulators want to control the entire information production process,” said Titus Chen, a Chinese social media policy expert at National Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan.

The latest move is in line with increasingly restrictive regulations under President Xi Jinping which restrict an already narrow space for speech. The Chinese leader has made “digital sovereignty” a central concept of his government, under which the authorities have set limits and increased control of the digital realm.

The new credentials requirement could restrict individuals from publish original content, including people like Ma who do not openly contest Xi’s ruling Communist Party line. Weibo CEO Wang Gaofei, replying to Ma on the platform, said comments on news released by official media are allowed but commentators cannot “release news” on their own.

The policy review is intended to “standardize and guide public accounts and information service platforms to be more aware of maintaining the proper direction of public opinion,” according to a statement published by the Cyberspace Administration.

A week after unveiling the new rules in late January, the administration held a national conference on the importance of “strengthening order in online publishing.” The head of the agency, Zhuang Rongwen, said the agency must “let our supervision and management grow teeth.” On February 4, the agency publicly announced a month-long cleanup campaign targeting search engines, social media platforms and browsers. Such campaigns, in which companies take steps to meet government demands, aren’t new, but the application has been looser in the past: In 2017, Weibo backtracked after complaints were bundling gay content with a ban. of pornography.

It seems to be happening in conjunction with a crackdown to enforce existing rules.

“It’s a big deal, it’s a massive campaign,” said Xiao Qiang, a digital censorship expert at the University of California at Berkeley. “And these are people who haven’t written something cutting edge. They are not intentionally nervous about things. “A notice in Sohu in January, which also hosts microblogs, states that public accounts without credentials must not post or repost current affairs. Prohibited topics include” articles and comments on politics, economics, military affairs, diplomatic and public affairs; Extracting from context and distorting the content of the history of the party and the country; breaking news and commentary. “Internet giant Baidu, which also has a publishing platform, issued a similar warning.

It is unclear to what extent bloggers will be punished for posting comments without credentials. A topical account on Tencent’s WeChat messaging app was shut down last week on “suspicion of providing an information service on the Internet”. Named “August Old Yu,” it was run by Yu Shenghong, a former reporter for the state broadcaster CCTV, who did not respond to a request for comment.

Representatives from Baidu, Sohu and Weibo did not respond to requests for comment. Tencent declined the comment. The cyberspace administration did not respond to a faxed request. The coronavirus pandemic appears to have partly spurred on tightened regulations. In the early days of China’s outbreak, much of the news coverage was driven by online accounts and digital-only media that spread both news and rumors.

During the pandemic, “self-media” created malicious rumors and casually ignored the privacy of others, severely affecting the stability and harmony of society and harming the legal rights and interests of others, “the administration said. of cyberspace in a notice explaining the new policies. Ultimately, the new rules reflect the concerns of censors, although it’s not exactly clear what they’re so insecure about, Berkeley’s Xiao said. “Over the past full year, control it was so tight that hardly anyone can talk about anything, “Xiao said.

(This story was not edited by our team of editors and is generated from a feed.)

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  • China steps up online controls with a new rule for bloggers