The Cyberspace Administration of China will require bloggers and social media influencers to get special government approval starting next week. A government credential will be necessary to publish things on the internet on a large number of subjects.
Some internet users are concerned that only state media and official propaganda accounts will be given permission to publish.
Permits have been required since 2017 to write about politics and military issues. However, enforcement was not widespread. The new rules expand those requirements to health, economics, education and judicial issues.
Titus Chen is an expert in Chinese social media policy at National Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan. He said regulators want to control the whole process of providing information.
The latest move follows increasingly restrictive rules on speech under President Xi Jinping. The Chinese leader has made “digital sovereignty” a central idea of his rule. Under it, officials have set limits and increased control of digital information.
The new credential requirement could restrict individuals from posting original content. That includes people like Ma Xiaolin, who does not question the rules of Xi’s ruling Communist Party.
Ma is an international relations professor. His blog has two million followers. But recently, he wrote that the Weibo site called and asked him not to post original content on subjects like politics, the economy and military issues.
Ma has often posted on developments in the Middle East. He is one of many popular influencers working within China’s heavily controlled web.
Ma wrote on January 31, “It looks like I can only go the route of entertainment, food and beverage now.”
The chief of social media service Weibo, Wang Gaofei, answered Ma on the service. He said commentary on news released by official media was permitted but commentators could not “release news” themselves.
The Cyberspace Administration said in a statement that the policy change is meant “to standardize and steer public accounts and information service platforms to be more self aware in keeping the correct direction of public opinion.”
A week after announcing the new rules in late January, the administration held a nationwide conference on the importance of “strengthening order in online publishing.” The head of the administration, Zhuang Rongwen, said the agency must let its supervision “grow teeth.”
On February 4, the agency publicly announced a month-long drive targeting search engines and social media sites.
Such campaigns are examples of when companies take steps to meet government demands. These are not new. However, enforcement was looser in the past.
“It is a big deal, it’s a massive campaign,” said Xiao Qiang, an expert on digital censorship at the University of California at Berkeley.
A notice last month on the social media service Sohu said public accounts without credentials must republish current news. Banned subjects include politics, economics, military, diplomatic and public issues. Internet service Baidu also released a similar warning.
It is unclear how bloggers will be punished if they publish commentary without the credentials. However, a current issues account on Tencent’s WeChat messaging service was shut down last week. The reason, the Associated Press (AP) reports, was because of “suspicion of providing an internet news information service.”
Representatives of Baidu, Sohu, Weibo and Tencent did not answer the AP’s requests for comment. The Cyberspace Administration did not answer another request.
The coronavirus pandemic started in Wuhan, China. It appears to be a reason for the new rules. In the early days of China’s outbreak, news coverage of the health crisis was driven by online accounts that included both news and unproven information.
The Cyberspace Administration said the mixed information hurt “the stability and harmony of society and damaged the legal rights and interest of others.”
I’m Mario Ritter, Jr.
Huizhong Wu and Fu Ting reported this story for the Associated Press. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Words in This Story
credential –n. a document which shows that a person is permitted to do a particular job
sovereignty –n. unlimited power over something
original –adj. new, not like others
route –n. a way of doing something
censored –adj. examined for things that are offensive, unwanted harmful, disputed
standardize –v. to change things so that they are like other things
steer –v. to control the direction of something
self-aware –adj. knowing and understanding of one’s self
stability – n. a state of not being changed easily
harmony – n. a pleasing combination of different things
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