Net tightens on online rumours

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 07 October, 2011, 12:00am


New regulations targeting China's robust social media are likely to be rolled out soon as part of the government's ongoing campaign to curb the spread of rumour on the web, according to mainland new media scholars and industry insiders.

Song Jianwu, (pictured) dean of the school of journalism and communication at China University of Political Science and Law, expected measures, which may include real-name registration for users of microblogs, to be issued soon.

'The central government has recently passed new measures to manage [mainland microblogging site] Weibo,' Song said, adding that provinces and municipalities were also experimenting with new controls.

'For example, Beijing's municipal government is likely to promulgate a real-name requirement system to regulate Weibo soon.'

Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, has become a mighty conduit for sharing information, expressing political views, challenging officialdom and spreading rumours. Efforts to quell those rumours are being seen by some observers as a bid to close an avenue of anonymous digital dissent on the mainland.

The controls may include issuing licenses to those microblogging sites that 'can effectively eliminate rumours', Song said. 'Just like a supermarket, the food safety watchdog would hardly allow the operation of a supermarket if it regularly sold counterfeit or poisonous food.'

Leading mainland internet expert Professor Li Yonggang said the government might target bloggers with more than 50,000 or 100,000 followers for tighter control.

As tighter control usually results in a withering of business, microblog operators are taking the issue seriously. A Guangzhou-based new media industry insider said a handful of top executives from various mainland microblog operators held a low- profile meeting in Guangzhou last month and discussed how to respond to the expected regulations.

The source said Meng Bo, deputy editor-in-chief of and project manager at Sina Weibo, was among those at the meeting.

Zhang Zhian, associate professor at the school of communication and design at Guangzhou's Sun Yat-sen University, said: 'The operators of commercial microblogs are deeply concerned about the new measures which are said to have been in preparation for a good while.'

The insider said fellow professionals expected tighter control of free expression on the website, adding that he guessed the new policies would be made public, after testing the waters, before the end of this year.

Mainland media have been carrying hundreds of reports recently focused on the negative effects of rumours spread through microblogs.

Sina recently announced that a credibility rating system might be put in place in a bid to curb the spread of malicious rumours on Weibo. Sina's action follows government calls for it to curb the spread of rumours.

Internet Society Hong Kong chairman Charles Mok said mainland authorities had spared no effort in keeping the circulation of rumours under control for a long time.

'They would, for instance, clarify or stop the spreading of some highly forwarded messages which are considered to be rumours,' he said. 'They may also keep a close eye on some target users, who may be both outspoken and have drawn huge attention, and restrain them from releasing controversial messages in a number of ways.'

Zhang said he was not pessimistic about the development of microblogs on the mainland because they had become a way for the general public to monitor the coercive power of the government since 2009.