Thursday, February 25, 2021

China to Force Independent Bloggers to Get Government Approval Before Publishing


The Chinese government is further cracking down on free speech with a new law, set to go into effect next week, that would force independent bloggers to seek official approval before publishing content.

The Cyberspace Administration of China will now require bloggers and influencers to earn a government-approved credential before they can openly post content on a digital platform.

“What you’re seeing is China has really its own internet, where the rest of the world has an alternative internet,” Jordan Haas, director of trade policy at the Internet Association, told Newsweek.

Chinese Bloggers
Goods are sold online at the China International Import Expo on November 5, 2020, in Shanghai.
TPG/Getty Images

Requiring the approval is a form of “strengthening order in online publishing,” according to a statement the Associated Press obtained from the Cyberspace Administration.

The move is part of a wider push by the cyberagency, announced February 4, to take strong action against online platforms, including social media sites and browsers. Content posted during the coronavirus pandemic that “severely [affected] the stability and harmony of society and damaged the legal rights and interest of others” was the reason for the more stringent policies, according to the statement cited by the AP.

What you’re seeing in China is actually going after what individuals can say,” Haas said. “Not only that users of their platforms [cannot] talk about political and military [topics] but also they’re now not able to talk about health economics, education and judicial matters. And that’s a whole other level of censorship.”

Chinese internet company Sohu provided a notice to users that noncredentialed public accounts are banned from publishing “articles and commentary on politics, economics, military affairs, diplomatic and public affairs; taking out of context and distorting the content of the Party and country’s history; breaking news and commentary.”

“The problem with that regulation is ‘damaging societal harmony’ is so broad and vague…it provides no guidance,” Darrell West, vice president and director of the governance studies program at the Brookings Institution, told Newsweek. “So the risk is it will lead to selective enforcement against people the government doesn’t like.”

West added that it’s not clear yet what punishments would be ordered against individuals who violate the regulation, nor what steps content producers will need to take to get the credential. He also said it’s confusing how broadly the regulation will be applied to influencers who post content to international audiences.

There are economic impacts to Chinese regulations as well. Major U.S. social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook are further shut off from Chinese users.

“Adding more restrictions on their citizens takes us a further step away from internet platforms being able to enter into the Chinese market,” Haas said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has pursued a robust internet censorship policy since the start of the pandemic. Researchers found last year the government had censored 516 keyword combinations on the popular messaging app WeChat, such as “Wuhan pneumonia epidemic out of control,” that were linked to the outbreak.

Zhuang Rongwen, head of the Cyberspace Administration, said in the statement the move was to “let our supervision and management grow teeth.”

“It’s a big blow to freedom of expression,” West said. “It also creates problems for citizen journalists who might want to oversee government activities or investigate particular problems. It’s going to be more difficult to do that under the new rules.”

Newsweek reached out to the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., for comment but did not hear back before publication.


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