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The Chinese government is cracking down on users of the country’s widely popular microblogs, known as weibos, to register using their real names — making it easier for authorities to track them.
Real name registrations began with just five cities in 2011 and internet regulator, Wang Chen, said the scheme would eventually be extended.
“This started at the end of last year. At first it applies to new users only, and it will then be expanded to existing users,” said Wang Chen, minister in charge of the press office of the State Council — China’s cabinet.
He told reporters that weibos had exploded in popularity, with hundreds of millions of loyal users writing around 150-million postings every day.
“Weibo is a new internet application. It’s speedy, influential, and has a wide reach and strong potential for mass mobilisation,” he said.
With the Chinese online population now well past the half a billion mark, authorities are concerned about the power and influence of the internet being used to spark unrest in a country that maintains tight controls on traditional media.
The government exercises tight censorship over the web through a system of tight controls popularly known as the “Great Firewall of China”, and is particularly nervous as the country will undergo a major leadership transition towards the end of the year.
Western social networks like Twitter and Facebook are currently banned in China, content that the authorities find offensive or politically unacceptable is immediately blocked or removed.
Despite the controls, however, people are still using weibos to vent their anger and frustration over official corruption, scandals and disasters by re-posting information and images as fast as the authorities can take them down.
Residents in Guangdong protesting against land seizures and a power plant recently posted photos and reports of their demonstrations on weibos, defying official efforts to block news of the incidents.
“On the one hand, microblogs can reflect the social situation and public opinion, and broadcast a positive public voice,” Wang was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.
“At the same time, microblogs… can make it easy to disseminate a few irrational voices, negative public opinion and harmful information.”