China Cracks Down on IM Services to Curb the Sharing of Political News
The Chinese authorities tightened grip over the country’s most popular instant messaging services on Thursday as they passed new rules that require public-account users to register using their real names and sign an agreement that they will “obey the law and uphold the socialist system,” reported the state-run Xinhua news agency.
Chinese media said the restrictions were imposed to “clean up the online environment” and safeguard national security.
The new regulations, issued by China’s State Internet and Information Office, also desist citizens with public accounts from sharing or publishing unauthorized political news without government permission — only news agencies and other authorized websites can post or share such information. Accounts that don’t comply by the rules will be restricted from posting the content or removed.
However, the new rules appear not to apply to instant messaging between users and their contacts.
The regulations are believed to target the immensely popular Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s application, WeChat, which has nearly 400 million active visitors taking up 87.6% of the market in China, according to Analysys International. The effect of these regulations may be substantial considering the last year’s crackdown on the Twitter-like microblog services such as Sina Weibo, following a rise in the spread of political rumors among users.
“The government has successfully brought Weibo under control and has become the dominant voice there. I have no doubt that they will succeed with WeChat,” Jeremy Goldkorn, a Chinese Internet commentator told CNN.
A Tencent spokeswoman told The Wall Street Journal that WeChat has required real names for official accounts since its inception. She said the company had built multiple systems to prevent rumors on the service and that it would take measures against copyright infringement, spam, offensive and abusive activities, or “anything that defies national law and policies and social morals” to ensure compliance with the rules.
The source revealed that the company had already deleted thousands of articles and more than 400 official accounts that were found to be propagating rumors.
Chinese authorities also confirmed Thursday that they had been blocking two South Korean-owned instant messaging services, KakaoTalk and Line, which remained inaccessible in the country for several weeks. The officials claimed the services were being used by terrorists as a mode for exchanging information.
Analysts think the reason behind these recent regulations restricting the messaging-app services, is to gain control over some politically sensitive content sent via the apps. But how Chinese government plans to enforce its regulations is yet to be seen.