Beijing to require users on Twitter-like services to register with real names

A move that could scare off Chinese micro-blogging users, according to one analyst.

Beijing city authorities are requiring users of China's Twitter-like microblogging services to register with their real name identities, a move that could scare off the websites' users, according to one analyst.

The city government announced the new regulations on Friday as a way to protect users and improve credibility on the platforms, according to China's state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Under the new regulations, users of the services must register with their real identities in order to publish posts on microblogging sites. It wasn't clear how the authorities planned to distinguish between users or services in different cities.

China's microblogging services have become some of the hottest websites in the country. The sites, however, have come under increasing government scrutiny in a nation known for its strict censorship over the Internet. In certain cases, China's microblogging services will prevent users from searching terms connected with protest movements or Chinese political activists. Foreign social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook are already blocked in the country.

Friday's new regulations follow recent announcements by Chinese authorities have made public statements in recent months, calling for stronger measures to manage the services. Authorities have gone as far as even detaining Chinese microblog users for allegedly spreading fake rumors on the sites.

It was not entirely clear how microblogging services would implement ID checking systems. But sites such as Sina Weibo, which has more than 250 million registered users, have already been asking users to voluntarily register with their real names. Affected sites and their users must comply with the regulations within the next three months. Users will still be able to choose their own screen names.

Sina and Tencent, two Chinese companies that operate the most popular microblog sites in the country, did not respond for comment.

Before the new regulations, experts had been already predicting Chinese authorities would eventually push for a real-name system on China's Twitter-like services, given that the sites have become platforms for users to criticize the government. This occurred in July, when after a high-speed train wreck killed dozens, users took to the country's microblogs to complain about train safety and the government's handling of the incident.

The new regulations, however, will likely come at a cost, said Bill Bishop, an independent analyst and user of Sina Weibo. "People are definitely not happy about this and I think the sentiment is that people will want to use the (microblogging services) less," he said.

Local Chinese media sites have posted a full text of the regulations, which state users cannot post on topics that will damage the nation's honor or incite illegal gatherings that will disrupt civil order.

"How are these regulations really going to be interpreted?" Bishop said. "People are going to feel like, 'Why bother now?' It now raises the cost, and there's not a lot of upside for most people."

Qiu Yun, a Beijing resident and Sina Weibo user, said she felt helpless and disappointed by the new regulations. "Weibo is our only window to find out the truth. From Weibo we can see things that the news broadcasts don't have and understand more about real events occurring," she said in an interview.

"Although there is fake information on the services, you can't give up eating for fear of choking," she added. "Why did they have to create these regulations? This is nothing more than the authorities in fear over the power of Weibo."

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