Sina Weibo introduces new user policy, effectively censors free speech

One of China’s most popular microblogging platforms, Sina Weibo, is set to introduce a new user policy which restricts free speech on the service and can be used to punish those who criticise the government.

The policy, which is currently described as a ‘trial’ which will come into full effect on 28 May, has a lot of new requirements for the platform’s 300 million users. Among them is the stipulation that users cannot create or share content that harms the “unity” or “integrity of the nation”, disrupts the stability of society, promotes rumour mongering or calls for illegal gatherings or protests. The definitions in the policy are vague, and the move is being seen as yet another act of censorship as a result of the strict laws put in place by the Chinese government.

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According to The Next Web, the new user rules are a response to a recent clamp-down on social media by Chinese authorities, who introduced new regulations which require all users to verify their real names and link their account to their Chinese ID. Sina says in the policy that it encourages users to “authenticate their true identities” in order to be rewarded with a verified badge and access to special services on the microblogging site.

A translated version of the policy also says users cannot publish “untrue” or “illegal information” (even if they refer to ideas obliquely) and includes a section which is the most threatening for users who use the platform to voice political dissent. It states that:

Users have the right to publish information, but may not publish any information that:

1. Opposes the basic principles established by the constitution

2. Harms the unity, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of the nation

3. Reveals national secrets, endangers national security, or threatens the the honor or interests of the nation

4. Incites ethnic hatred or ethnic discrimination, undermines ethnic unity, or harms ethnic traditions and customs

5. Promotes evil teachings and superstitions

6. Spreads rumors, disrupts social order, and destroys societal stability

7. Promotes illicit activity, gambling, violence, or calls for the committing of crimes

8. Calls for disruption of social order through illegal gatherings, formation of organizations, protests, demonstrations, mass gatherings and assemblies

9. Has other content which is forbidden by laws, administrative regulations and national regulations.

Any users whose behaviour is a “clear violation” of the rules will be dealt with by Sina directly. They will also establish a ‘community committee’ (that will include members of the pubic) which will be responsible for overseeing less direct violations of the terms of use policy. They will judge whether a post is “true” and can prevent a user from reposting or commenting in future — or even delete the account entirely.

Sina says that it will make the results of these investigations available to the public.

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