Social media freedom advocates, you should be sitting down for this, because we’re about to drop a Weibombshell on you.
The Weibo accounts hosted by Sina, Sohu, NetEase and Tencent will require real name and ID number registration from all users by March 16th, with unregistered users to be denied posting and forwarding capabilities. The announcement was made at the Beijing Weibo Development Management Regulations Seminar held today in Beijing.
Users who don’t register will still be able to view other accounts. For users who do register, there are reassurances that real names will be kept secret with Weibo hosts, and will not be viewable by other users on Weibo.
3 million users have already registered with Sina Weibo, the most popular Weibo host, while phone credit cards and monthly video access cards totaling 1 million RMB and 20 million RMB respectively will be rewarded to the first Sohu Weibo users who register.
Though talk concerning real name registration has been circulating for a while, the latest announcement looks to be the most serious to date, with clear stated ramifications for users who don’t register. Time will tell if the new policies will stifle the open public discussion in Chinese social media (a Weibocracy, if you will) that was especially visible over the past year.
Currently, 65% of Chinese netizens have used Weibo, with more than 320,000,000 Weibo accounts online.