China will fight fake news.  Nice, but it probably means something completely different than on Twitter and Facebook

The Chinese government is thinking that it will further restrict freedom of speech on the Internet. The local state internet regulator has come up with a proposal for updated conditions for online platforms. All sites, social networks, etc. will now have to approve any comments that users want to post. In addition, they will have to collect information about the real identities of these users.

China’s Cyberspace Administration, as the regulator is called, has published the proposal in a document on the Management of Internet Commentary Services, the English translation of which can be found here. The regulation has existed since 2017, but according to the Chinese government is not in line at present, the update allegedly puts the rules more in line with current Chinese laws, data protection and security.

However, data protection and greater security are just nice words on paper, in reality it is nothing more than another important censorship intervention. The Chinese Internet is heavily regulated, Western services are largely banned, but users still have some leeway on local platforms such as Weibo, where they write critical comments about the Chinese government.

This was especially evident during the recent strict covid lockdowns in China, when, for example, people in Shanghai could hardly go out for several weeks, and food and water supplies were stuck. Residents were so unhappy that they complained on local social networks. The Chinese government has not been able to take much action, so far it has focused primarily on the contributions as such, not on the comments below them.

That is why she decided to update the rules on comments. The platforms will now have to approve all user comments before publication, and the regulation stipulates that the services will have to hire an army of moderators to carry out this check. This does not only apply to text, but also to reactionary comments in the form of emoji, videos, GIFs or other images.

It is not clear how moderators should prosecute this in practice. The Chinese Internet is big, people produce billions of comments. Under the current rules, only discussions under accounts that concerned sensitive issues or violated the rules in the past had to go through the approval process, and the Chinese moderators were already so busy that they barely prosecuted. In addition, as the site points out MIT Technology Reviewfor Chinese Internet services, this will be an extra astronomical cost.

For this reason, the MIT Technology Review does not rule out the possibility that the rules will act mainly as a scarecrow for both users and network operators, as regulation of this magnitude cannot really be enforced. People should feel that “someone upstairs” is constantly seeing their comments, but they really won’t see them.

Chinese companies can now comment on the new rules, the deadline is July 1. Then the date from which the novelty could take effect will be determined. The current proposal is intended to include a new obligation for platforms to collect their real identities about each commenter.

Leave a Reply