China tightens restrictions on dissent, porn and gambling online
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China tightens restrictions on dissent, porn and gambling online

CHINA’s battle against Internet freedoms, or at least, what we outside of China consider to be freedoms, is progressing.

recent announcement by China’s Internet regulator lays out new rules which stipulate comments posted on online forums and Internet-based platforms have to use the author’s real-life identity.

The Chinese Cyberspace Administration’s rules require website operators, as well as administrators of online forums, verify users’ real names (and other personally identifiable details) at the point of registration.

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Additionally, those operators are also legally bound to report “illegal content” to the authorities. Illegal content includes, of course, materials held to be derogatory to or critical of the government, or, as the rules define, “damaging the honor of the nation and its interests.”

Also outlawed is the promotion of cults, spreading rumors, eroding social stability, inciting hatred, endangering national security, and indeed, anything proscribed by law.

Apart from those rather broad definitions of slanderous behavior, included are the spreading of pornographic material and the promotion of gambling.

These stipulations are broadly in line with both policy and trends outside of legislative control: the use of the Internet for porn is on the decline worldwide, mostly due to the makeup of user demographics.

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Apple store at the Nanjing Road in Shanghai, China on May 4, 2016. Source: Shutterstock

China has also been cracking down on use of offshore gambling centres (such as Macau) in recent years as part of a wider anti-gambling strategy.

The use of real-life identity online has been part of everyday life for many Chinese for some years now, as both Weibo and WeChat have had this policy enforced for some time.

The identification policy includes smartphone use, or indeed, any platform that’s connected digitally and is, therefore, able to “mobilise society”.

The policies should come as no surprise, of course; the Chinese government’s policy against use of VPNs (enforcing the so-called great firewall of China), is being strictly enforced and extended, with any supplier of VPN services and leased lines needing governmental approval to operate.

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VPNs were being used by over 700 million mainland residents as of the beginning of 2017, according to a report in the South China Morning Post.

Apple’s well-publicised move to remove VPN software from its AppStore’s Chinese variant is of course strictly in line with government policy. Cynics might surmise that corporate profits are more important to the tech giant than the ability of the Chinese populace to be able to “think different“.

While, arguably, the loss of anonymous comments on news sites is not something to be mourned in some cases, the overall flavor of the Chinese authorities’ moves is a worrying increase in totalitarian behavior at a time of worsening tension in the region.

**This piece originally appeared on our sister website Tech Wire Asia.