The Chinese government on Thursday （Aug 7th） rolled out a regulation to tighten management of instant messaging services, a move which it hopes will help build a clean cyberspace.
The regulation targets public accounts on such services, most of which are subscription-based mobile apps, and which can spread information on a large scale.
New registrants will for the first time be obliged to register with real names. 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, under the regulation.
Meanwhile, providers of instant messaging services shall be responsible for their safe operation, protect users' information and citizens' privacy, be subject to public supervision and handle illegal information in a timely manner.
Regulators will warn violators, limit their rights to release information, suspend their renewals or even close their accounts, based on the degree of the violation.
The regulation aims at promoting healthy development of the fast-growing instant messaging sector and safeguarding national security and public interests, according to the State Internet Information Office.
Popular instant messaging platforms including Tencent's WeChat allow users to send text, photos, videos and voice messages over mobile devices. Public accounts on such services are owned by individuals, organizations and companies.
Real names now required for WeChat and other IMS
Users of instant messaging tools, including WeChat, must now register for the services with their real names in the latest bid by China's cyber watchdog to clean up the online environment and rein in rumormongers.
The State Internet Information Office announced the move on Thursday, adding that potential users of WeChat, a popular instant messaging and voice application designed by Chinese tech giant Tencent, will only receive an account after their real identities are verified.
Users can still use their online nicknames when using instant messaging tools, according to the new rule. The office stressed that the privacy of users can be protected when registering their real names.
The rule, which has been effective since Thursday, has been applauded by Internet uses and experts.
Shi Shusi, a popular micro-blogger and WeChat user, praised the real-name registration, saying it is necessary to give true identities when opening a bank account or shopping online.
Li Yuxiao, director of the Institute of Internet Governance and Law under Beijing University of Posts and Telecommnunications, agreed with Shi, but said the real-name system is no cure-all for the online environment.
"We are troubled with some rumors on instant messaging tools, especially on WeChat where most friends believe what they see and the impact of the rumors is sometimes bigger than other platforms, such as micro blogs," Li said.
The real-name system is a must, he added, but cleaning up cyberspace and reducing misinformation also requires the government and self-discipline from users.
According to the new rule, online service providers should ask users to supply real identities if they want online services on mobile phones. The mandate is in line with the Internet information protection regulation made by the top legislature's standing committee.
Previous users who were not required to provide authentic information will be encouraged to join the real-name systems, but the watchdog said the specific method for doing so would depend on the application producers and operators.
Guo Kaitian, vice-president of Tencent, welcomed the real-name system. He said his team spends too much time identifying and removing fake information and reports from users.
"Paying and taking taxis via our application will become easier and quicker for users who provide real identities," Guo said. "For those reporting alleged rumors, we'll give a reply and solution within seven days."
It is also hoped the real-name system deter those who spread illegal information on instant messaging tools, including the promotion of violence, terrorism and pornography.
China to clean up instant messaging services
The Chinese government started a month-long campaign to eliminate malpractice on instant messaging services like WeChat on Tuesday.
While such services have become popular online communication channels, some people have used them to distribute illegal and harmful information, seriously undermining public interests and order in cyberspace, said a statement from the State Internet Information Office (SIIO).
The campaign will target public accounts on instant messaging services, which can spread information on a large scale and mobilize followers, according to the statement.
WeChat has more than 800 million users. Besides private accounts used for communication among friends, family and acquaintances, many public accounts are owned by organizations, companies or individuals for mass communication.
The campaign will crack down on those spreading rumors and information relating to violence, terrorism and pornography, as well as those using instant messaging for fraud.
"We will firmly fight against infiltration from hostile forces at home and abroad," the statement said.
The SIIO, the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and Ministry of Public Security are in charge of the campaign, which will hold service providers responsible if they do not fulfill their duty.
The authorities also encourage the public to provide tip-offs through emails, phone calls or the website net.china.com.cn, the statement added.
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