China tightens rules on instant messaging services

Tencent has closed more than 100 public WeChat accounts, official news agency Xinhua reported

Mobile app WeChat has almost 400 million users in China

Mobile app WeChat has almost 400 million users in China

 

The banning of Twitter in China has never really bothered users much, as they have tended to prefer mobile messaging apps such as Tencent’s WeChat, which has almost 400 million users, as well other services such as QQ (also operated by Tencent), Alibaba’s Laiwang, NetEase’s Yixin and Xiaomi’s Miliao.

However, China has been stepping up online censorship in recent months and the country’s internet watchdog has issued rules forcing real-name registrations on public accounts of instant messaging apps and requiring those wishing to publish or reprint political news to seek prior approval.

While the Beijing government say the new rules are aimed at help the fight against terrorism, rights activists believe the regulations are aimed at keeping tabs on free speech in the relatively uncontrolled world of mobile messaging.

The new rules will impact on popular mobile messaging apps such as WeChat, QQ and the others.

Tencent, which has Asia’s largest internet company, has closed more than 100 public WeChat accounts, the official news agency Xinhua reported.

There are overseas repercussions too. China has also told South Korea it has blocked access to two mobile messaging services, Kakao Talk and Line, which it said were used to exchange terrorism-related information. The instant messaging provider must have professional staff, protect user information and privacy, accept social supervision and report illegal information.

The instant messaging provider must register using their real identity.

“Users shall abide by laws and regulations, the socialist system, national interests, the legitimate rights and interests of citizens, public order, social morality and ensure the authenticity of the information they provide,” according to the new rules.

Only approved news agencies and websites will be allowed to post or tweet the news, the rules said, and accounts that have not been approved are forbidden to publish or reprint political news.

“A few people are using the platforms to disseminate information related to terrorism, violence and pornography as well as slander and rumours,” Jiang Jun, a spokesman for the State Internet Information Office told Xinhua. “Such behaviour has raised bitter feelings among netizens.”

Service providers must verify and publicly mark accounts that can publish or reprint political news. The clampdown on instant messaging sites comes after last year’s crackdown on “online rumour-mongering”, whereby anyone who tweeted something suspect that was retweeted more than 500 times faced prosecution.

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