Censorship in China

China tightens control of chat groups ahead of party congress

Internet chat service providers must now verify the identities of their users and keep a blog of group chats for no less than six months, cyberspace watchdog says

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 September, 2017, 10:22pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 September, 2017, 10:36pm

China issued new rules on instant messaging chat groups on Thursday, tightening control over online discussions ahead of a sensitive leadership reshuffle next month.

Beijing has been ramping up measures to secure the internet and maintain strict censorship, a process that has accelerated ahead of the Communist Party’s 19th national congress, when global attention will be on the world’s second-biggest economy.

Group chats on instant messaging apps and online commenting threads have surged in popularity as forums for discussion in China in recent years, partly because they are private for members and so in theory are subject to less censorship.

Internet chat service providers must now verify the identities of their users and keep a blog of group chats for no less than six months, the Cyberspace Administration said on its website.

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The rules, which take effect on October 8, just before the congress is due to begin, will cover platforms provided by China’s internet titans, such as Tencent’s WeChat and QQ, Baidu’s Tieba and Alibaba’s Alipay chat. Alibaba owns the South China Morning Post.

The regulations also required companies to establish a credit system, and to provide group chat services to users in accordance to their credit rating, the administration said.

It said chat group participants who broke the rules would have their credit scores lowered, have their rights to manage group chats suspended or revoked and should be reported to the relevant government department.

The administration did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment sent after office hours on Thursday.

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The administration also said the owner of the chat group should bear responsibility for the management of the group.

“Whoever owns the group should be responsible, and whoever manages the group should be responsible,” it said.

The new rules are the latest requirement for China’s internet giants, who have already been subject to investigations from the administration into their top social media sites for failing to comply with cyber laws.

The administration has already taken down popular celebrity gossip social media accounts and extended restrictions on what news can be produced and distributed by online platforms, and has embarked on a campaign to remove virtual private network apps, which allow users to access websites blocked by the authorities.