Internet users in China will soon be held accountable for liking posts deemed illegal or harmful, raising fears that the world’s second-largest economy plans to clamp down on social media like never before.
China’s internet watchdog is stepping up regulation of cyberspace as authorities step up a crackdown on online dissent amid growing public anger over the country’s tough Covid restrictions.
The new rules come into force on December 15 as part of a new set of guidelines published by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) earlier this month. The CAC operates under the Central Commission for Cyberspace Affairs, chaired by President Xi Jinping.
Recently, new rules have attracted attention on social media and will take effect weeks after an unprecedented wave of public anger began to sweep the country. From Beijing to Shanghai, thousands of demonstrators protested in more than a dozen cities over the weekend, demanding an end to the country’s strict Covid restrictions and calling for political freedoms.
Internet users take screenshots use coded references in messages to protect objectionable content and avoid censorship, the The authorities are trying to clean the Internet of the opposition.
Regulation has been updated a version of one previously published in 2017. Here, for the first time, “likes” of public posts should be regulated along with other types of comments. Public accounts should also actively moderate every comment under their posts.
However, the regulations did not elaborate on what content would count illegal or harmful.
“Approving something illegal shows that there is public support for the raised issue. Too much liking can ‘start a wildfire,’” said David Zweig, professor emeritus at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, referring to a Chinese expression about how a single spark can start a bigger fire.
“Threats against people [Chinese Communist Party] comes from the ability to communicate between cities. “The authorities were really scared when so many people came out at the same time in so many cities,” he said.
Analysts said the new regulation is a sign that the authorities are intensifying their crackdown on the opposition.
Joseph Cheng, a retired professor of political science, said: “The authorities are very concerned about the spread of protest activities, and an important control tool is to intercept the communications of potential protesters, including protests and requests to join them. City University of Hong Kong.
“Controlling this cyberspace is an important lesson learned from protest activities like the Arab Spring,” he said, referring to the 2011 protests that swept through Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and the eastern province of Saudi Arabia.
“What’s important to note is that after the event [China] if there are protests, we will likely see more aggressive policing in Chinese cyberspace, especially if the protests expand,” said Isaac Stone Fish, founder and CEO of Strategy Risks, a Boston-based China risk consulting firm.
In recent years, China has gradually tightened its censorship of social media and other online platforms, including cracking down on financial blogs and unruly fan culture. This year, the country’s strict zero-Covid policy and Xi’s historic third term in office has sparked discontent and anger among many online users.
But under increasingly strict internet censorship, many dissenting voices have been silenced.
The regulation requires all online sites to verify the true identity of users before allowing them to post comments or like posts. Users must be authenticated by providing their personal ID, mobile phone or social credit number.
All online platforms must create a “review and edit team” to monitor, report or remove content in real-time. In particular, news comments should be reviewed by sites before appearing online.
All platforms should also develop a credit rating system for users based on their comments and likes. Users with poor ratings, referred to as “dishonest”, will be added to the blocklist and banned from using the platform or registering new accounts.
However, analysts have questioned the practicality of implementing the latest rules, given the widespread public outrage and the fact that strict enforcement of these censorship requirements would consume significant resources.
“As discontent continues to grow, it is almost impossible to prevent the spread of protests. Angry people can find all kinds of ways to communicate and express their feelings,” Cheng said. “The main deterrent is the perception that the (Communist) Party regime is still in control and sanctions are tough.”
Chongyi Feng, associate professor of China Studies at the University of Technology Sydney, said it was “very difficult” to voice the grievances and anger of the Chinese public.
“Cyberspace policing by the Chinese authorities is already beyond measure, but that is not stopping brave Chinese citizens from challenging the regime,” he said.