China is set to start moderating all user comments on social media platforms before they’re published, a move that could make one of the world’s most censored states even more restrictive.
According to a notice from China’s internet regulator, the new comment-scanning rules are in line with the government’s national security and public interests, as well as the interests of its citizens. It’s unclear exactly when the new provisions will come into force, though it’s expected sometime this year.
A New “Follow-Up Comment Service”
China has long been known to target public criticism of and opposition to its government, and the new “follow-up comment service” will be installed to augment the existing provisions on internet comments that came into force in 2017.
Those provisions had set out new rules for both comment service providers and internet users. In 2017, China implemented a true identity name registration system that required Weibo (similar to Twitter) and WeChat (similar to WhatsApp) users to provide their personal information.
All internet sites, website platforms, and applications where public opinion and social mobilization occur will be subject to the strict implementation of the new provisions, the notice confirmed. This means the provisions will affect all online platforms where users can publish text, expressions, symbols, communicate via audio and video “and other means.”
The “national network information department” as well as local departments will be enforcing these measures and fulfilling these legal obligations throughout China via daily and regular inspections.
All internet platforms that allow user comments in China will have to collect their true identities as well as authenticate them, the notice says. The deadline for public feedback on the new regulations is July 1, 2022, though draft legislation in the country has passed more or less as-is in the past.
Dealing With “Bad and Illegal Information”
Follow-up comment service providers in China will “find and deal with illegal and bad information,” as well as find “security defects,” by managing follow-up comment review management, emergency response, real-time inspection, and sharing their reports with the relevant network information department.
Furthermore, regulators will be required to “equip an audit and editing team” to help create safety assessments and help with “supervision and inspection in accordance with the law.”
Many users in China have already reacted negatively to the new provisions, according to the South China Morning Post. “[R]eal-name registration is enough and it is not necessary to overly restrict [the freedom] of speech,” a Weibo user remarked.
“How will people speak up if there is no channel?” another user said.
Users Who Violate Laws Will be Processed
According to the notice, users are encouraged to “follow public order and good customs,” as well as “promote socialist core values.” Internet users who violate the laws could have posts deleted, their accounts restricted or deleted, and be blocked from re-registration.
Furthermore, social media providers are expected to monitor flagged users, while “dishonest,” or blacklisted users will be barred from all services and re-registration.
It is well-established that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is one of the most restrictive nations in the world. Most Western social media platforms are blocked in the country, as are Google, the BBC iPlayer and Western media sites.
If you find yourself in China, you might find it useful to learn how to bypass The Great Firewall. We always recommend that you take precautions if you want to do this and understand the implications of PRC law.