China has been trying for some time to clamp down on the Internet, in an attempt to prevent it from being used in ways that threaten the authorities’ control. Since the appointment of China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, the situation has deteriorated — China Digital Times speaks of the “new normal” of sharpened control. Here’s yet another move to that end, as reported by Reuters:

China will ban from March 1 internet accounts that impersonate people or organizations, and enforce the requirement that people use real names when registering accounts online, its internet watchdog said on Wednesday.

The ban on parody accounts might seem strange, but is likely to have quite an impact on China’s online culture:

The ban on impersonations includes accounts that purport to be government bodies, such as China’s anti-corruption agency and news organizations like the People’s Daily state newspaper, as well as accounts that impersonate foreign leaders, such as U.S. President Barack Obama and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said on its website.

Many users of social media create parody accounts of prominent figures and institutions to poke fun at them.

However, once users have registered their real names, they will be permitted to use nicknames, as the new regulation explains:

Internet information service providers shall, according to the principle of “real name backstage, voluntary choice front stage”, demand Internet information service users to register accounts after undergoing real identity information authentication.

Internet information service users shall, when registering accounts, conclude an agreement with the Internet information service provider, and commit to respect the seven baselines of laws and regulations, the Socialist system, the national interest, citizens’ lawful rights and interest, the public order, social moral customs and the veracity of information.

That comes from China Copyright and Media’s complete translation of the new CAC regulation. Here are the rather stringent rules that apply when choosing an online nickname:

The Internet user account name registered and used by any body or individual may not contain the following elements:

(1) content violating the provisions of the Constitution, laws or regulations;

(2) content violating national security, leaking State secrets, subverting the national regime, or destroying national unity;

(3) content harming the honour and interests of the State, or harming the public interest;

(4) content inciting ethnic hatred or ethnic discrimination, or destroying ethnic unity;

(5) content destroying State religious policies, propagating heresy or feudal superstition;

(6) content disseminating rumours, disrupting social order, or destroying social stability;

(7) content disseminating obscenity, sex, gambling, violence, murder, terror or instigating crime;

(8) content defaming or slandering others, or infringing others’ lawful rights and interests;

(9) other content prohibited by laws and administrative regulations.

That’s obviously a pretty comprehensive list, and might suggest that the Chinese Internet is doomed to become totally boring — and completely censored. That may be the authorities’ intention, but it’s worth bearing in mind that this is not the first time that the Chinese government has attempted to impose real-name registration online.

A fascinating series of five articles on the Fei Chang Dao site details how similar campaigns to tame the online world have been introduced many times since 2003, evidently without much success. Although the current crackdown on Internet freedom certainly appears more serious than earlier ones, it remains to be seen whether the Chinese authorities manage to impose real-name registration on all services, or whether this will turn out to be just the latest in a long string of failures.


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