Tougher online censorship rules for bloggers and social media influencers start next week in China in what is seen as a renewed attempt to rein-in free speech and "clean-up" the country's online communities.
The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the internet regulator, censor and control agency, will require bloggers and influencers on Chinese online media to secure government-approved credentials before they can publish online on a narrow range of topics. The new rules cover stories about health, economics, education and judicial matters. Posts about political and military affairs have been restricted since 2017.
The 2017 restrictions include "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."
It's unclear to what extent bloggers will be punished if they publish without CAC credentials.
CAC said the credentialing rules are meant "to standardize and steer public accounts and information service platforms to be more self-aware in keeping the correct direction of public opinion."
Weibo CEO Wang Gaofei explained that commentary on news released by official media such as the Xinhua News Agency is permitted, but the new rules mean commentators can't "release news" by themselves.
China has been condemned by the United States, other countries and human rights advocates for imposing increasingly harsh censorship on its own citizens.
Analysts said the new credential requirement will restrict people from posting original content and restrict the dissemination of online information only to state-run or state-controlled media and official propaganda outlets.
"The regulators want to control the entire procedure of information production," said Titus Chen, an expert in Chinese social media policy at National Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan.
The latest move adds to a raft of increasingly restrictive regulations under President Xi Jinping, whose "digital sovereignty" concept allows the central government to set limits and increases its control over online media.
Earlier this month, CAC launched a weeks-long "clean-up" of search engines, social media platforms and browsers. In doing so, it forced companies to adhere to communist guidelines or else be banned.
In December 2020, it banned popular travel site Tripadvisor and more than a hundred other mobile phone apps as part of a crackdown on pornography and other improper content.
In October, CAC announced mobile browsers in China have until November 9 to complete a "self-examination" that addresses the spread of misinformation, sensational headlines and content that conflicts with the values of communism.