CNN — Internet users in China will soon be held accountable for liking posts deemed illegal or harmful, raising fears that the world’s second-largest economy is planning to control social media like never before.
China’s internet watchdog is stepping up its regulation of cyberspace as authorities step up a crackdown on online dissent amid growing public anger over the country’s tough Covid restrictions.
The new rules come into effect on December 15, as part of a new set of guidelines released by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) earlier this month. The CAC operates under the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission chaired by leader Xi Jinping.
The new rules have drawn attention on social media in recent days and will come into force just weeks after an unprecedented wave of public anger began to sweep the country. From Beijing to Shanghai, thousands of protesters demonstrated in more than a dozen cities over the weekend, demanding an end to the country’s draconian restrictions and calling for political freedoms.
Netizens are taking screenshots of protest-related content to preserve it and using coded references in posts to evade censorship, as authorities scramble to cleanse the internet of dissent.
The regulations are an updated version of a precedent published in 2017. For the first time, they state that the likes of public posts must be regulated, along with other types of comments. Public accounts should also actively review every comment under their posts.
However, the rules did not specify what kind of content would be considered illegal or harmful.
“Loving something that is illegal shows there is popular support for the issue being raised. expression on how a single spark can start a much larger fire.
“Threats against [Chinese Communist Party] come from an ability to communicate across cities. The authorities must have been really scared when so many people in so many cities came out at the same time,” he added.
Analysts said the new regulations were a sign authorities were stepping up their crackdown on dissent.
“Authorities are very concerned about the spread of protest activity, and an important means of control is to shut down communications from potential protesters, including reports of protest activity and calls to join them,” Joseph said. Cheng, a retired professor of political science at the City University of Hong Kong.
“This control of cyberspace is an important lesson learned from protest activities like the Arab Spring,” he said, referring to protests that have swept through Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia in 2011.
“What is important to note is that following [China] protests, we are likely to see more aggressive surveillance of Chinese cyberspace, especially if the protests expand,” said Isaac Stone Fish, founder and CEO of Strategy Risks, a Boston-based Chinese risk advisory firm.
In recent years, China has gradually stepped up its censorship of social media and other online platforms, including launching a crackdown on financial blogging and unruly fan culture. This year, the country’s strict zero Covid policy and Xi’s achievement of a historic third term in office have sparked discontent and anger among many netizens.
But under increasingly strict internet censorship, many dissenting voices have been silenced.
According to the regulations, all online sites are required to verify the real identity of users before allowing them to submit comments or similar messages. Users must be verified by providing their personal ID, mobile number or social credit number.
All online platforms must set up a “verification and editing team” for real-time monitoring, flagging or removal of content. In particular, news comments must be reviewed by sites before they can appear online.
All platforms should also develop a credit rating system for users based on their feedback and likes. Users with low ratings labeled as “dishonest” will be added to a blacklist and banned from using the platform or registering new accounts.
However, analysts have also questioned whether it would be practical to apply the newer rules, given that public anger is widespread and strict enforcement of these censorship requirements would consume significant resources.
“It’s almost impossible to stop the spread of protest activity as discontent continues to spread. Angry people can find all kinds of ways to communicate and express their feelings,” Cheng said. “The main deterrent is the perception that the (Communist) Party regime is still in control and the penalties are severe.”
Chongyi Feng, associate professor of Chinese studies at the University of Technology Sydney, said it is “extremely difficult” now for the Chinese public to air their grievances and anger.
“Cyberspace policing by Chinese authorities is already beyond measure, but that doesn’t stop brave Chinese citizens from challenging the regime,” he said.
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