Proposed Changes in China’s Internet Law Target Microblogging Services

The Chinese government is poised to enact a new level of regulation over the Internet, one that seeks to impose new, stricter rules on microblog services and their users. The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China outlined a draft of changes proposed to the country’s primary Internet law, the Measures on the Administration of Internet Information Services, which was enacted in 2000.

The law represents the latest in a series of actions taken by the Chinese government and microblog services to regulate user behavior on microblogs, which have increasingly become platforms for government criticism in China’s tightly-controlled media environment. According to the state’s Xinhua news agency, the draft law is an attempt to “improve the administration and orderly development of Internet information services, as well as to maintain national security, and the legitimate rights and interests of the public and Internet information service providers.”

This new set of government regulations comes after China’s largest microblogging service Sina Weibo instituted a number of new rules on its users, an effort likely stemming from the company’s desire to appease the government. Last month, we noted in this blog post that Sina Weibo, which boasts more than 300 million users, released a new user contract in which users had to agree not to post content deemed “untrue,” threatening to the “honor of the nation,” promoting “evil teachings, or anything that “destroys societal stability.” That contract went into effect last week after a three-week trial phase. Our colleagues at the Herdict blog note the introduction of a “user credit” points system for Weibo users, which will subtract points for bad behavior such as “spreading falsehoods.”

The proposed changes to the Internet law, which was posted on the State Council Information Office website today, will be open to public comments until July 6. According to BBC News, the following are some of the key changes:

Part of the proposal involves changing the definition of "internet service providers" to include blogs, microblogs and online forums. The plan will require users throughout the country to register with their real identities in order to post online. This rule is already in place in the capital Beijing and a few other major cities. Other changes would also include requiring microblog operators such as Tencent and Sina Corp to obtain an administrative licence. Internet firms would also be required to keep record logs for 12 months and assist police and security agencies when necessary.

While these proposed changes indicate a growing effort to muzzle the use of social media, this working paper from Harvard University’s Gary King suggests that censorship of social media posts is also a targeted effort. King, who is the Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor and Director for the Institute for Quantitative Social Science, uses quantitative research to argue that the Chinese censorship is not intended to stop critiques of the state, but targeted at posts with collective action potential.