China regulates original news feeds on messenger apps such as WeChat
In latest crackdown on online content, only authorised groups can post original news
Adrian Wan in Beijing and Amy Li
The latest internet crackdown on the mainland means that only news agencies and websites are now authorised to publish original news content on public accounts on China's hugely popular WeChat. It is a platform with more than 5.8 million content providers, many claiming millions of subscribers.
Public accounts run by non-news agencies are allowed only to repost news, and only after they acquire a permit from the State Internet Information Office, according to a government announcement yesterday.
The SIIO's new measures came as public accounts on instant messaging services become a primary source of news and information for many.
The new regulations also called on party branches at all levels and state-run enterprises to launch public accounts to "service economic and social needs and satisfy the public".
The new rules, which became effective yesterday, apply to all instant messaging services including QQ and Momo. But experts believe the major target is WeChat, the most popular app on the mainland. WeChat had 396 million monthly active users in the first quarter of this year.
Xin Haiguang, a Beijing-based columnist who owns several public WeChat accounts, including one that shares political news, said he might have to change his content.
"I believe my public accounts will be severely affected," he said. His accounts total more than 100,000 followers. "I think the government should leave some room for the public to criticise and speak up on political issues."
If the rules were enforced strictly, many of the accounts would have to shut down, said Lei Ming, who runs a technology account with over 50,000 followers.
Wang Guanxiong, current affairs commentator and owner of a public WeChat account that has about 130,000 followers, said the government was regulating WeChat public accounts like it did with microblog platform Weibo.
"The rules are aimed at supporting government-backed media companies, while discouraging individual publishers, some of whom have gained much social influence," he said.
WeChat operator Tencent did not respond to requests for comment. It said on its own WeChat account that it agreed with the regulator's goal of quashing rumours. Tencent's share price dropped to HK$128.30 at yesterday's close, down 3.46 per cent.