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Chinese expected to brush off real name registration for Twitter-like sites

Michael Kan | Feb. 13, 2012
By March 16, users of China's Twitter-like microblogging sites will be required to register with their real names in a government effort to stop harmful information from spreading on social media sites. But to Beijing resident Cao Hong, it's clear what authorities' real intentions are.

By March 16, users of China's Twitter-like microblogging sites will be required to register with their real names in a government effort to stop harmful information from spreading on social media sites. But to Beijing resident Cao Hong, it's clear what authorities' real intentions are.

"I feel the government is doing this to monitor the people," he said in an interview. "This will restrict people's free speech."

But as unpopular as it maybe, China's new regulation to control its Twitter-like social networking services won't be enough to drive off Cao. If required, he plans to register with his real name on the sites. "I won't leave them, because I need to communicate with others," he said.

Analysts also expect the same: Although not everyone supports the real name registration requirement, China's Twitter-like services will still remain popular and continue to grow.

"Over the long-term, there's very little likelihood that the new regulations will disrupt this market," said Dong Xu, an analyst with Beijing-based Analysys International. "The features and products the sites are offering will attract users."

The new regulations, which were announced by Beijing's city government in December, come as authorities try to control the influence of Twitter-like sites, which have often become forums to criticize the government.

Once the new regulations take effect, users will need to register with their real identities in order to publish posts. Users, however, can still choose their screen name, or decide to opt out of the real name registration and instead only be allowed to browse on the site.

While authorities have said the new regulations are meant to ensure the Internet's "healthy development," the rules also state users cannot post on topics that will disrupt civil order or incite illegal gatherings. Last year, Chinese authorities detained Internet users for fabricating online rumors.

"A lot of people believe if you have a real name system, the government will be able track you down and throw you in jail," said Michael Clendenin, managing director at research firm RedTech Advisors. "But in reality, most of the users on the weibo (Twitter-like) systems are simply there for entertainment purposes."

"There are very few people who look beyond and say 'Free Tibet' or 'Independent Taiwan'," he added. "If you register for this system, it's not like having your real name be broadcasted out there. You can use whatever kind of handle you choose."

At the same time, many Chinese users are accustomed to an Internet already strictly censored by authorities. Domestic sites often quickly delete content or prevent searches on anti-government topics, while popular foreign sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are blocked from access.

 

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