China began intensifying its crackdown on VPN services last month, and now the country’s internet regulator has turned its attention to domestic websites and services. New regulations announced by the Cyberspace Administration of China today [link in Chinese] require users of social media, websites, forums, and other online services to register their real name and official ID from March 1.
This policy has been implemented before — Twitter-like microblogging service Weibo enforced real names in 2012 in a bid to control the spread of so-called ‘harmful’ rumors — but these reforms are potential far more sweeping.
Rumors spread by fake accounts have “polluted the Internet ecology, harmed the interests of the masses and seriously violated core socialist values,” the administration claimed in an announcement, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.
The Journal further reports that internet companies themselves will be required to implement the regulations and track users. Based on previous examples, that could prove tricky since enforcing such processes requires dedicated staffing and resources — not something which companies have prioritized in the past.
A government report issued this week claimed there are now 557 million internet users in China, that figure represents a five percent increase year-on-year and — if correct — it takes overall internet penetration in the country to 47.9 percent.
That growth in internet access, particularly from mobile devices, has proven problematic for the Chinese government and its efforts to exert control over news and public information in the country. China has long banned prominent journalists and activists for content published online, while it has issued major purges of influential services. Tencent’s WeChat messaging app was forced to delete as many as 10 million registered accounts last year on account of allegations of pornography, prostitution and fraud.