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New Chinese Social Media Policy May Be Used To Target Political Speech


Beginning Sunday, the Chinese government will require people using social media and messaging platforms to register with their real names. The government says it's a way to prevent false information from spreading on the Internet. But most observers think the real target is political speech. NPR's Frank Langfitt reports from Shanghai.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Just a few years ago, China's internet was surprisingly freewheeling. People took to the then-popular microblogging platform Weibo and openly criticized the regime.

JEREMY GOLDKORN: It started to become this incredible platform for debate and discussion of all kinds of things, things that previously one would had never seen in the public domain.

LANGFITT: Jeremy Goldkorn runs Danwei, a research company, and has followed China's internet for two decades. He says the government began cracking down after it realized it was losing control of public opinion. It threatened popular microbloggers and even jailed one who had more than 10 million followers.

GOLDKORN: They're worried that they'll lose control of the narrative and that people who do not see eye-to-eye with the Communist Party on how China should be ruled are going to gain too much influence. And that influence will threaten their rule.

LANGFITT: The government says, beginning Sunday, anyone using blogs, microblogs, instant messaging services, online discussion forums or news comment sections will have to register with their real identities. The regulation will cover Weibo, which Goldkorn says is already dying because of the crackdown on popular bloggers and market competition.

GOLDKORN: There are celebrity Weibo users who have completely toned down their discussions online.

LANGFITT: Some people are already criticizing real-name registration. The Ministry of Truth reminds you, Big Brother is watching, wrote one Weibo user. But Jack Zhang, a 30-year-old bank worker who lives in western China, supports the new policy. He think it'll make people more careful about posting false information and, he adds...

JACK ZHANG: (Through interpreter) Even if the government doesn't enact this law and I post some really inappropriate opinions or pictures, they can still find me if they want to, right?

LANGFITT: Frank Langfitt, NPR News, Shanghai. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.
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