Chinese news Web sites have been given secret orders by the government to require that new users log on using their true identities if they want to post comments, reversing existing policies allowing them to weigh in on stories anonymously.
News portals like Sina, Sohu and Netease began implementing the change about a month ago after receiving a confidential order from the State Council Information Office, a Chinese government agency that supervises the Internet.
Chinese authorities said the directive was part of an initiative to foster “social responsibility” and “civility” among users, according to the New York Times.
The chief editor of one portal, who requested anonymity, said the reason for the so-called real-name system was that, “the influence of public opinion on the Net is still too big.”
China’s online community includes 340 million people and is the world’s largest.
The new initiative is the just the latest effort to squelch freedom of speech in China. Earlier this year, Chinese officials shut down more than a thousand sites in a supposed war on “vulgarity,” shuttered liberal Web sites on grounds they spread “harmful information,” and temporarily blocked access to popular social media outlets like YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.
They also blocked Internet service to the Xinjiang region after deadly clashes erupted there between ethnic Uighurs and Han Chinese this summer.
In addition, China’s government had also attempted to require all computer makers to install “pornography-filtering software” that could be controlled centrally, but were forced to back off when various trade organizations protested and hackers revealed the software could also be used to interdict politically offensive material as well.
The State Council Information Office’s edict does not impact previously registered users. It also does not appear to impact most blogs or government news outlets like Xinhua and People’s Daily.