China has made a long-expected move to control influential microblogs much more tightly with new rules that require users to register with their real names.
The rules, announced on Friday by the Beijing Municipal government, also explicitly ban the tweeting of appeals for non-sanctioned gatherings and force the companies that run social networks to apply for government approval.
Observers and users of Weibo, China’s main Twitter substitute, said Beijing’s move is likely to further throttle the vibrancy of microblogs and could even compromise their viability as businesses.
Over the first half of 2010, the microblogs steadily gained in influence as their multiple sources of information and their speed in spreading news challenged the ruling Communist party’s existing internet censorship tools.
After the collision of two high speed trains in late July, which killed 40 people, triggered a microblog-fuelled wave of criticism of the government, the party stepped up efforts to rein in the social media.
It denounced the spread of what it calls rumours through microblogs, and high-ranking officials pressured Sina, the company which runs Sina Weibo, the country’s leading microblog, into adopting stricter self-censorship measures.
It has also stepped up punishment of internet users for spreading allegedly false or harmful content. User activity on Sina Weibo has declined in recent months, a trend bloggers blame on the increased controls.
Beijing-based Sina declined to comment on how and how soon it would implement the new requirements for real-name registration. But industry experts said the company will have to use a mechanism offered by the police for ad-hoc online identity checks.