A recent New York Times article, "China Web Sites Seeking Users' Names", reported on a new development in Internet censorship in China. Due to government orders, Chinese news websites now require users to register their true identities before posting comments. In the past, users' comments were screened and could be traced through their Internet protocol (IP) addresses, but registration was not required.
This type of censorship had been in the works for a while. In the past few years there were multiple attempts to require users to register before commenting on blog posts or news articles, but these attempts were blocked by public resistance from Chinese Internet users and the media. This most recent attempt was successful because the censorship was secretly implemented. Major news organizations around the world discovered its existence in early September. The Chinese government was motivated to install this censorship because of the 60th anniversary of the creation of the People's Republic of China, which passed on October 1st.
The sudden introduction of this new method of Internet censorship underscores the secrecy woven into China's policy on Internet censorship. Several articles about the censorship that were posted on Chinese websites were forced to be taken down. In the New York Times article, all of the quotes from officials familiar with the new policy were attributed anonymously because they were afraid of losing their jobs.
Of course, this new form of censorship in China revolves around the issue of online identity, a topic we discussed in class in relation to virtual worlds. The Chinese government believes if users are forced to make their identities public, then it will promote "social responsibility" and "civility." However, the censorship raises the problem of how to prevent fake identities from sprouting up everywhere. It is certainly possible, since a reporter was able to successfully register on several different news sites with a fake name, ID number and cell phone number.
There are several consequences of this recent addition to Internet censorship in China. Although this censorship is not a blatant attempt to limit freedom of expression on the Internet, it certainly does that to a degree. Critics also fear that the new measure will reduce readership of online news sources. The suddenness of the implementation is suspect as well, and it may foreshadow future censorship surprises.