China works to rein in online comment threads

Many of the top websites in China have agreed to better regulate their online comment sections

Porn, rumors, and anti-government content are all being targeted in China's latest push to filter online public expression.

At the Chinese government's request, 29 publications and companies in the country signed a pledge on Thursday to better regulate the online comment threads found on their websites.

State-controlled news groups such as Xinhua News Agency, and the People's Daily have signed on, but also local Internet companies including Baidu, Tencent and Sina, which run their own news portals.

The pledge, which was posted by Xinhua, asks that the comment sections be regulated to produce a "civilized" and "high quality " exchange of views, while also observing Chinese laws.

Under the pledge, websites will require that all users wanting to comment first register by providing official identification. Topics banned from discussion include anything that opposes China's constitution, harms national security, or fans ethnic discrimination.

Salacious information, personal threats, and comments spreading rumors or acting as advertisements are also prohibited. In addition, users are only permitted to comment in the language the original post was made in.

To carry out the measures, the websites can warn, block the post, and temporarily ban the user from the website. Users suspected of breaking the law can be reported to the relevant government offices.

No foreign companies were asked to sign the pledge. But many popular U.S. news sites have been blocked in the country, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg, along with Facebook and Twitter.

Websites operating in the country are already required to follow its strict rules on censorship. This can often take the form of a site pulling down controversial news or blocking searches related to the event on orders from authorities.

But Thursday's pledge shows that China wants to go one step further in controlling the content on news websites. One of the more popular news portals, NetEase, which also signed the pledge, receives tens of thousands of comments on its top articles each day.

"To follow the Internet regulations, we must not only closely regulate the source of the news and its production," said Chinese official Ren Xianliang on Thursday's pledge, according to Xinhua. "But we also pay great attention to how its circulation is guided and maintained."

China has the world's biggest online population at over 600 million users. But the government has always tried to contain the Internet's ability to spread anti-government information, and other content it deems to be "unhealthy." At times, authorities have even jailed Chinese Internet users for posting online rumors, or issued news rules to rein in other products including social networking sites and messaging apps.

Last year, the Chinese official Ren said that the country had to regulate the Internet even more due to the user growth. Although China has gained an infamous reputation for its online censorship, government officials view it as maintaining stability while still protecting users' free speech..

"Our work in managing this has to catch up. We are specifically targeting social media, and we are forming the specific systems and laws to regulate it," Ren said at the time.

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Tags governmentsocial mediaregulationinternetbaiduInternet-based applications and servicesTencentXinhua News Agency

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Michael Kan

IDG News Service
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