“I don’t know if it’s good or bad for the government to ban people from commenting.”
“You are still allowed to write comments, but you have to be responsible for what you say. If you are a well-behaved internet user, there is nothing to fear.”
These are two of the reactions (in Chinese) to news that the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the country’s top internet regulator, announced (in Chinese) that, starting October 1, it will require internet users to identify themselves with their real names to use comments sections on news and social media websites. The users do not have to display their real names when commenting and can continue to use nicknames, but the rules require internet companies to verify the real identities of all users of commenting functions. This is known as “real name in the back end, voluntary use of real name on the front end” (后台实名，前台自愿 hòutáishímíng, qiántáizìyuàn).
According to the notice, all forms of comments — on websites, mobile apps, or any other digital platforms — are subject to the new rule, including “bullet screen” (弹幕 dànmù), a popular feature among young Chinese that allows users to have their comments scroll across the screen while watching videos.
The rules also stipulate that companies must implement a real-time review system to filter inappropriate comments before they appear on the internet. CAC offices at national and provincial levels are instructed to conduct regular credential checks on providers of commenting services and establish a blacklist for violators.
The goal, as the CAC said in the notice, is to “improve the management of the online commenting service and promote healthy and orderly development of the service,” since online comments have led to “the dissemination of rumors, vulgar language and illegal information.”
A partial history of real-name registration in links
There has been talk of real-name registration (实名制 shímíngzhì) for internet and mobile services since the early 2000s, but implementation has, until recent years, been ineffective. This is hardly surprising, as it was only in 2000 that China made it compulsory (in Chinese) to use real names when opening bank accounts. Not until 2015 was ID required to open a mobile phone account.
Wikipedia’s Chinese-language version has a good history of real-name registration in China, or you can read in English about some of the milestones below:
The paradox of registering bloggers' real names
Xiamen to kill off anonymous posting
Mr. Sun, I'll need to see some ID It's not a real-name system; we just want your real name.
Transcript of podcast interview with Zhanzuo.com users on Real Name System
Say goodbye to anonymity on the internet. Again.
Real-name registration required for phone users in China
China to start seriously enforcing real-name mobile registration, government claims
Mobile phone real-name registration applies to everyone
Why China's school dropouts are a cause for concern for its economy / The Independent
- Gender stereotypes
University to abolish mixed-gender dorm policy / China Daily
“The canceling of the mixed-gender arrangement is to prevent noise made by male students playing video games late into the night from disturbing female students and also to provide more privacy to female students who want to open their doors for fresh air in summer months.”
Bruce Lee's toughest fight immortalized in film with 'Birth of the Dragon' / AFP
- On the street
Dude dances his way through breathalyzer test, surprisingly was not legally drunk / Shanghaiist
China’s notorious urban enforcers beat street vendors / SCMP
Police nab not-so-smart phone thief in Beijing / SCMP
- Book reviews
A parent confronts conformity in the classrooms of China / NYT (paywall)
Chinese cop's retirement home for police dogs / BBC