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Weibo will stop letting kids under 14 register new accounts

It’s also creating a kids-only version of the app, like Facebook’s Messenger Kids

This article originally appeared on ABACUS

Soon, Chinese kids younger than 14 won’t be able to sign up for the country’s most popular blogging platform.

Starting in November, Weibo will stop letting minors under 14 years old register new accounts, in order to create a “clean, healthy, civilized and orderly” environment, and to protect minors’ safety on the internet.

It’s also developing a special version of Weibo just for minors, the company says.

How Weibo became China’s most popular blogging platform

How are they going to pull it off? Thanks to Weibo’s real name registration policy. Since last September, Weibo demanded all users verify their accounts by submitting their mobile phone numbers, which have to be registered with real names.

The move will affect new accounts. But Weibo didn’t say what they’ll do about existing accounts held by minors.

Weibo is now giving popular users the right to censor other users

Whenever a big move like this happens in China, people always wonder what triggered the change. There doesn’t seem to be any clear signs of Weibo falling foul of the authorities, but at the same time, tech companies often self-censor to stay safe.

And given that it comes amid growing concern by authorities over social content for minors, it may have been a wise move.

In June, Meipai, a short video app popular with teenage girls, pulled itself off the shelf from China’s iOS and Android app stores after authorities criticized it for hosting vulgar content involving children. Another short video app, Kuaishou, has also been called out by state media because of videos of teenage mothers in the app.

As for the new Weibo app for minors, they haven’t revealed what it will look like -- only saying it will “offer content and activities that are appropriate for minors”.

But that in itself triggers more concerns about social media services targeted at children.

Facebook found itself under fire after doing something similar last December. Facebook doesn’t allow users under 13 on the platform (though, unlike Weibo, they don’t ask for proof of age), so for those users they launched a separate product: Messenger Kids.

It’s proven controversial. Advocates have asked Zuckerberg to terminate the app and filed complaints to US authorities, arguing that while the kids version of Facebook ostensibly encourages kids to communicate more with their family, it is really about keeping kids hooked on it for Facebook’s benefit -- and that it’s bad for children’s well being.

For more insights into China tech, sign up for our tech newsletters, subscribe to our Inside China Tech podcast, and download the comprehensive 2019 China Internet Report. Also roam China Tech City, an award-winning interactive digital map at our sister site Abacus.