China orders social media to block banned ‘reincarnation’ users

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Chinese social media censorship

The Chinese government has ordered social media operators to toughen censorship rules. Photo: Zhang Yu / Chinese News Service via Getty Images

China’s internet watchdog orders websites to prevent banned accounts from “reincarnating,” as part of a campaign to strengthen internet censorship in the country.

Individuals and businesses could have their accounts closed for posting content deemed illegal, such as fake news, pornography, and government criticism.

Although users are required to register their accounts with real identities, those whose accounts are closed are often able to register new accounts, referred to as “reincarnation” by social media users.

But social media operators are now required to tighten oversight of “blacklisted accounts” and prevent them from being reborn, according to a directive released by China’s Cyberspace Administration on Wednesday.

It’s unclear how strict the rule would be applied to individual social media users, but it could encourage further self-censorship as people avoid being permanently banned from Chinese platforms.

A 28-year-old woman who lives abroad and declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, said she had three accounts on the Weibo microblogging site that had been banned in the past. An account was closed after posting photos of the Hong Kong protest movement in 2019.

She managed to register a new account using a different email address each time, but re-adding all the connections from the deleted accounts was a big deal.

“I’ll be more careful,” she said after the new policy was announced. “I’m going to put more pixelation on the photos. “

Chinese internet users have found themselves in a cat-and-mouse game with censors as people find creative ways, such as euphemisms and image edits, to get around censorship. But as the online crackdown intensifies, the risks of losing your account permanently could further narrow the space for expression.

“dictatorship” in a comment.

He said he felt like a “cyber ghost” after being suspended because he couldn’t do anything with the account but could still see other people’s messages. “I feel like a part of me was killed,” he told VICE World News, adding that he has since lost touch with many of the friends he made through the account.

The man managed to create a new account under a different smartphone number. This account was also permanently suspended this week, after sharing posts supporting a woman who sued a state television host for sexual harassment.

The civil case was China’s most important #MeToo lawsuit. A Beijing court ruled against her on Tuesday, citing insufficient evidence. Many accounts that expressed support for the accuser were suspended shortly after the hearing.

“You never know where the border is,” the man said. “Things that aren’t a problem today might get you punished tomorrow.”

International social sites also have mechanisms to ban “reincarnated” accounts. Twitter, for example, in 2019 said he had suspended 100,000 accounts for creating new accounts after a suspension.

But on Chinese platforms, the rules, drawn up under government orders, are much stricter and cover a wide range of political dissent. There is usually no explanation for closing an account, while users can rarely appeal these decisions.

The Chinese government has launched a campaign this year to eliminate what it considers to be harmful content, such as celebrity gossip, criticism from the authorities and financial blog posts that “misguided” make pessimistic predictions about the Chinese government. economy.

In response, social media operators, including Weibo and Tencent, have in recent months closed at least thousands of accounts accused of breaking state rules.

The new directive also ordered websites to improve their human censorship systems and create databases for content that violates laws and regulations. Meanwhile, platforms must guide users in producing “high-quality content,” things that promote traditional values ​​and display an industrious and cheerful spirit.

Follow Viola Zhou on Twitter.


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