Communist Party Tightens Control on Chinese Social Media; License Now Required to Comment on Current Affairs

Communist Party Tightens Control on Chinese Social Media; License Now Required to Comment on Current Affairs
Icons of WeChat and Weibo apps on a smartphone on Dec. 5, 2013. (Petar Kujundzic/Reuters)

The Chinese Communist Party has further tightened its control over speech, information, and thought among the Chinese people, announcing limits on what can be posted on social media.

Social media platforms in recent days have issued notices to users, requiring them to obtain “Internet News Information Service Licenses” or otherwise be banned from commenting on “politics, economics, the military, diplomacy, and other major news.”

The notices explain that if a user doesn’t have a license, they are advised not to compile, publish, comment on, or interpret any information on current affairs.

The notices from Sohu and Baidu clearly state that users are now required “not to release such information without approval,” and that the new rules “prohibit the development of such content without permission or beyond the permitted scope.”

Sohu’s notice to social media/self-media accounts owners. (Screenshot)
Sohu’s notice to social media/self-media accounts owners. (Screenshot)

Sohu’s notice also listed penalties for violations of the new regulations.

For reposting existing information, “unlicensed accounts” spreading prohibited content will initially be banned for seven days. A second violation will trigger a 15-day suspension, followed by a 30-day suspension for a third violation.

A fourth violation will result in the account being “permanently disabled.”

The penalties are harsher for those sharing original posts. Unlicensed accounts directly posting information in violation of the rules will be “permanently banned once discovered,” the notice said.

Commentators who aren’t affiliated with a state-approved media company have said it’s almost impossible for them to be granted a license, given the long list of unrealistic requirements demanded by WeChat, Sohu, and Baidu on behalf of the authorities.

The criteria, according to the owner of the NetEase account “Tianma Xingwen,” will make personal accounts ineligible for a license.

“As a researcher and columnist on international relations, it seems that from now on, I can only talk about eating, drinking, and having fun on social media,” Ma Xiaolin, a veteran reporter who covered the Iraq war, said on Weibo on Jan. 30.

The new regulations will mean that the future of Chinese social media will “belong to only a very small number of people,” they said.

The CCP’s Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) is behind the push for the new social media restrictions. The internet regulation and control agency announced during its national meeting on Jan. 29 that it would focus its resources on “prominent problems that disrupt the peace and order of internet communications,” including viral topics and videos.

Major internet service providers that own social media platforms, such as Tencent and Sina Weibo, attended the meeting.

Zhuang Rongwen, vice minister of the CCP’s propaganda department and director of the CAC, said at the meeting that it’s necessary to “maintain the correct political orientation, public opinion orientation, and value orientation” across all internet platforms, no matter what they are.

The CAC said in a Jan. 31 notice that with the licenses, it’s now “focused on rectifying” the situation where the public has had access to unregulated online commentators.
The agency also said that licensed media personalities will still need to follow a “review before posting” policy, implying that they won’t be able to discuss politically sensitive views about current affairs, including during livestreams.
Ling Yun contributed to this report.