Chinese Authorities Implement Real Name Microblog Regulations

May 10, 2012

Beginning March 16, authorities in Beijing and Guangdong province reportedly began enforcing a requirement that microblog users must register their accounts with their accounts with their real name and identity information before being allowed to post or re-post content online. The announcement that authorities would begin enforcing this requirement follows the December 2011 issuance of regulations introducing this registration requirement in several cities in China, including Beijing, Shanghai, Tianjin, and the Guangdong cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Given that Beijing and Guangdong are home to a number of China's major microblogging service providers, the real name registration requirement could affect large numbers of microblog users in China. Authorities have expressed concern over "online rumors," and the recent measures follow a spate of high-profile incidents in recent years in which large numbers of Chinese microbloggers took to their blogs to openly criticize the government.

On March 16, 2012, authorities in Beijing municipality and Guangdong province reportedly began enforcing an earlier-issued requirement that microblog users register their accounts with microblog service providers using their real name and identity information, according to a March 12, 2012, China News article. According to the report, microblog users who fail to comply with the real-name requirement by March 16 will not be able to post or re-post content online. The real name requirement is reportedly tied to earlier pilot microblog regulations introducing this requirement in December 2011. The Commission's research found pilot regulations issued by Beijing in mid-December 2011 and reports of similar regulations issued by Shanghai, Tianjin, and Guangzhou municipalities and Shenzhen special economic zone in late December 2011. While Chinese media reports indicate that the March 16 real-name registration deadline applied to Beijing and Guangdong province, which includes Guangzhou municipality and Shenzhen special economic zone, it is unclear whether the other localities also began enforcing the requirement on that date (see, e.g., South China Online, 7 February 12; Xinhua, 7 February 12; Beijing Daily, 8 February 12; Dahe Daily, 9 February 12). Enforcement of the real name requirement will impact a number of China's major microblog service providers including Sina, Sohu, Tecent, and Netease, all headquartered in Beijing and Guangdong province. Given that these four service providers in particular make-up the majority of microblog users in China, the impact of real name registration could affect a large number of microblog users in China (Resonance China, 30 March 11; Forbes, 17 March 11).

The number of microblogs users in China has grown rapidly over the last two years. According to the official China Internet Network Information Center's 2011 report on Internet use in China, there were 250 million microblog users out of 510 million total Internet users in China by the end of 2011, representing a 296 percent increase in microblog use since 2010. Chief Executive Officer Charles Chao of Sina Corp. announced in February 2012 that Sina microblog users rose to 300 million in the beginning of the year, according to a February 28, 2012, Bloomberg article.

Beijing Pilot Regulations

The Beijing regulations were issued on December 16, 2011, in a pilot program titled "Several Provisions on The Development and Management of Microblogs in Beijing Municipality" (Beijing People’s Municipal Government, 17 December 11). According to a December 16, 2011, Xinhua article, an official with the Beijing Internet Information Office said, "the new rules are aimed at protecting web users' interests and improving credibility on the web." The official reportedly stated that the regulations would make microblogging service providers more trustworthy and provide higher quality service.

The Beijing provisions are the only pilot regulations publicly available and reportedly were the model for similar regulations issued in Tianjin, Shanghai, and Guangzhou municipalities and Shenzhen special economic zone in late December 2011 (BBC Chinese, 22 December 11). The regulations address the following issues and requirements, among others:

Microblog Service Provider Requirements. Beijing-based service providers are required to:

  1. ◦ Apply for verification and approval from the BIIO before applying for a telecommunications business license. (Article 6)
    ◦ Prevent the creation of fake microblog accounts. (Article 7(7))
    ◦ Restrict users from transmitting harmful information and promptly report to public security authorities any activity that “violates security management” or is “suspected to be criminal.” (Article 7(8))
    ◦ Establish a mechanism to verify information content and supervise the production, reproduction, publication, and transmission of microblog content. (Article 8)


Microblog Registrant Requirements. Individuals and organizations must:

  1. ◦ Register microblog accounts using authentic identity information. (Article 9)
    ◦ Refrain from registering under the false or replicated identity of a resident, business, or organization.


Microblog Content Requirements. Organizations and Individuals may not illegally use microblogs to produce, reproduce, publish, or transmit content that:

  1. ◦ Endangers national security, divulges state secrets, subverts state power, harms national honor or interests, or incites ethnic hatred or ethnic discrimination. (Article10(2)-10(4))
    ◦ Violates state religious policy or propagates "cult or feudal superstitions." (Article 10(5))
    ◦ Spreads rumors, disturbs public order, or undermines social stability (Article 10(6))
    ◦ Incites illegal gatherings, parades, demonstrations, or gathers a mob to disturb public order. (Article 10(9))
    ◦ Discusses activities in the name of illegal civic organizations. (Article 10(10))


Possible Expansion of Pilot Microblog Regulations on a National Level

Chinese authorities have expressed interest in expanding microblog regulations to other parts of the country following the introduction of the pilot programs in December 2011. According to a January 19, 2012, article in the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, Director Wang Chen of the State Internet Information Office, an administrative agency established in May 2011 that is responsible for regulation and oversight of Internet content and services providers, announced tentative plans for the expansion of microblog regulations. Chen indicated that previously established pilot programs would serve as a template for the future expansion of regulations once authorities had acquired adequate experience.

Context and Official Reasoning for Pilot Regulations

The implementation of pilot microblog regulations aimed at tightening control over microblogging services come amid a spate of high-profile incidents in recent years which triggered substantial online discussion and criticism of issues such as official corruption and lack of government transparency. These examples include the Gansu school bus crash (New York Times, 18 November 11), the hit and run case of a two-year-old in Guangdong province (CNN, 21 October 11), the Wenzhou train collision (The Guardian, 25 July 11), and the "My Father Is Li Gang" incident (People’s Daily, 27 October 10). In these cases, online discussion of social problems and inequalities led to widespread criticism of official corruption and of government transparency and responsiveness.

In late 2011, Chinese officials reportedly publicly discussed the need for increased control over microblog service providers and users in light of growing concern over the spread of online rumors(wangluo yaoyan). In an August 2011 visit to the headquarters of Sina Corp. in Beijing, which operates one of the most popular microblogging services in China, Politburo Member Liu Qi said Internet companies "should step up the application and management of new technology, and absolutely put an end to fake and misleading information"(Wall Street Journal, 24 August 11). Subsequent editorials in state-run newspapers called for tougher measures on online content(see, e.g., Xinhua, 28 November 11; Xinhua, 30 November 11; Xinhua, 7 December 11). On October 10, 2011, a Central Committee decision circulated at the Sixth Plenary Meeting of the 17th CCP Central Committee advocated for “strengthening the guidance and management of social media and real-time communication tools”(China Central Government, 25 October 11).

Freedom of Expression and Information Concerns

Chinese academics and Internet industry analysts have expressed concern that the push to tighten controls over microblogging services—particularly with the implementation of real-name registration—could have a chilling effect on freedom of expression by causing microblog users to self-censor out of fear of government detention and harassment(see, e.g., Global Times, 15 March 12; Xinhua, 13 March 12). A December 20, 2011, Global Times article speculated that implementation of the real-name registration system would likely lead the majority of microblog users to "keep silent due to fear of being charged for what they said, especially if exposing the wrongdoing in society." The Chinese government has consistently censored freedom of expression in a manner that does not comply with international human rights standards, including peaceful expression critical of the government (see CECC 2011 Annual Report, 57-62). Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which China has signed and expressed an intent to ratify, guarantees the right "to seek, receive and impart" information "of all kinds, regardless of frontiers," through any media of one's choice. Article 19 permits restrictions on this freedom, provided they are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect the rights or reputations of others, national security, public order, or public health or morals. Chinese government practices exceed these allowances, however, because their extensive censorship of the Internet is not limited to the removal of content such as pornography, spam, or content deemed to violate intellectual property rights, but also political and religious content the government and Communist Party deem to be politically sensitive.

For more information on Freedom of Expression and the Internet, see Section III—Freedom of Expression in the CECC 2011 Annual Report.