China is cracking down on censorship once again, but this time things are a touch more serious. According to new rules published by China’s main internet censor last Friday, netizens who want to post comments online will now have to register with their real names. They can still use pseudonyms, but those names are tied to their real identities. These new rules come ahead of the communist party’s 19th National Congress, which convenes this autumn and is usually a time when the regime tightens the ship.
Half of this is nothing new; the Chinese regime has always ordered people to register with their real names and has made attempts to enforce this on various levels over the past three years. This time, however, the difference is that internet companies and service providers are being made responsible for ensuring users stay fully identified. Companies and service providers are also required to report any illegal content they see on any platform to the government.
Despite China’s many attempts to control the internet, users have always found ways to skirt the rules and hide in a degree of anonymity in Weibo (a Chinese microblogging site similar to Twitter) chats and other platforms. And the use of VPNs to bypass China’s firewall has been prevalent there and in other totalitarian countries like Iran and Russia. But even the VPNs are beginning to fall under the relentless pressure of Chinese censorship. As of early August, Apple removed several VPN apps from the iTunes store in China, citing local law.
Now, China plans to do away with netizens’ last semblance of privacy by shifting the responsibility onto companies and service providers. So when a netizen adopts a username, they might call themselves by a different name on the web, but they can’t hide their true name from the Chinese regime.