China has issued new rules that bar the use of fake names in social media and comment sections. The government said that such accounts are used to incite hatred and impersonate top officials. The new rule takes effect starting May 1, 2015. It comes amid an already tightened control over what happens on the web from inside the borders.
The Chinese government is infamous for restricting its citizens’ access to the web and imposing various levels of control over the internet. Some dub the internet restriction in the country as the Great Firewall of China. The new ruling against the use of fake identity on the web comes from the Chinese government’s Cyberspace Administration of China. The announcement on its website says fake online accounts have been previously used to impersonate real groups. Some fake accounts have been set up with the primary purpose of impersonating Chinese government officials an mislead the public.
The administration said other instances of using fake accounts online include pretending to be news agencies to release fake news, promoting hoax on the web and impersonating foreign head of state such as Barack Obama. The new regulation applies to pretty much every place on the web where people can publish writing. That includes blogs, social networking media, micro-blogging sites, forums, instant messaging tools, etc. The rule requires every user to use their real name in order to register on the web accounts. However, nicknames can be used as display names as long as they do not contain illegal or bad information. The same rule applies to avatars or display pictures that can be used on internet profiles.
The idea behind the latest requirement is to enable the authorities to know who each person on the web is. That way, hate speech or impersonation can be handled better as the authorities will have the real identities of people using online accounts. But with the new rule in place, it’s unlikely that users will take the risk of engaging in illegal activities when they know the government is aware of their identity.
On the downside, removing anonymity from the web essentially hurts the freedom of speech in many ways. But that government oversight in freedom of speech is not new in one of the biggest countries in the world which has a population of 1.3 billion. According to data from China Internet Network Information Center, nearly 649 million users of the population were online by the end of 2014. The government said that it will be up to internet service providers to make sure that the new rule is applied and practiced although it didn’t say what the punishment would be if service providers fail to follow the new regulation. Prior to the new rule for social media users and comment writers on the web, China enforced rules for writers, app developers and online video uploaders to use their real name before publishing material on the web.
While pseudonyms are not necessarily a bad thing, the latest law against using fake names online in China may spark some level of controversy and protest. But with tight control over who says what on the web, the rest of the world might not get to hear what the Chinese citizens have to say about the new rule.
By Aminul Islam Sajib