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China's police ignore real name rules ... so far

Users reportedly still able to post on weibos despite strict registration rules

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Users of China’s hugely popular social media platforms must now register with their real-names if they want to be granted posting rights after a strict new government ruling came into force on Friday night, although reports suggest that the rules have yet to be enforced across the board.

The new system has been rolled out nationally on sites such as Sina Weibo, Sohu and Tencent ostensibly to eradicate zombie follower accounts and prevent “harmful” rumours from spreading across the web, although critics fear it will usher in an era of even stricter censorship online.

ID card or mobile phone number are the two primary ways users are being allowed to register for such sites, the latter acceptable because in China users need to submit their ID card details in order to activate a new mobile SIM.

However, when The Reg checked on Friday afternoon on the Sina Weibo home page, only around 19 million users had registered with their real name details, well short of the site's estimated 300m users.

With the deadline for registrations coming at midnight on the same day, it’s unlikely that even half of the users on the site are abiding by the new rules, something which chief executive Charles Chao has already warned could silence a massive number of Sina Weibo users.

Reports have emerged that users are able to post on the sites despite not having registered with their ID details, although it could be that enforcement of the rules has yet to kick in.

Mark Natkin, managing director of Beijing-based IT consultancy Marbridge Consulting, told The Reg that at the moment there aren’t any real incentives for users to move forward with the real-name registration process.

“For those accounts that belong to real people, we expect broad real-name registration compliance only once the platform operators begin enforcing the requirement and closing loopholes for circumnavigating it,” he added.

“So far users who registered Sina Weibo accounts prior to the transition period are still able to post and forward without registering their real-name details and an account I registered using only a pre-paid mobile number in mid-February can also still post and forward.”

Critics have argued that the new rules are another nail in the coffin for free speech in China, just when social media sites were emerging as a genuine platform for web users in the People’s Republic to air their views.

The authorities have already introduced strict new rules governing what journalists can report in what was widely seen as an effort to discourage them from sourcing stories from social media. ®

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