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China's new 'real name' regulations to strip web users of anonymity

Graphic by Zi-Ann Lum, Photo by Ed Yourdon via Creative Commons

Starting Friday, new Chinese government regulations will make make it mandatory for anonymous bloggers and internet users to reveal their real names and identities.

The new Internet regulatory measures target registered users of RenRen and Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalents to Facebook and Twitter.

The new "real name" Internet registration measures reveal a thinly-veiled effort to identify and censor dissident voices in China's blogosphere.

Over 500 million Chinese citizens currently have access to the Internet. Sina Weibo boasts over 300 million registered users. 

Last year, tech-savvy Chinese netizens used Sina Weibo to communicate messages of resistance through popular coded political slang. Their resistance was inspired by Occupy Wall Street and Arab Spring movements, which relied heavily on Facebook and Twitter to organize protests. 

But Chinese authorites have so far been quick to suppress attempts for any "Jasmine" protests from picking up momentum by developing algorithms to prevent users from doing keyword searches for "flagged" terms. 

Authorities today are taking it a step further by forcing bloggers to register with their real name. The program has already begun as a three-month trial period in Beijing. Those who failed to register their real identities during in the will be stripped of their posting and sharing privileges as the new reforms begin to apply nationwide on Friday.

Despite sweeping Internet reform, Sina Weibo remains optimistic. The popular social media company expects the vast majority its user identities to be verified before the new regulations come into effect. 

"We estimate that by the deadline, the majority of our users, about 60 per cent of them would have successfully registered their identities," Sina Weibo spokesman Liu Qi told Reuters

Zero anonymity means Sina Weibo will soon possess a very valuable database of user information. This is good news for the Beijing-based company (which was recently valued at 28.5 billion, or $4.5 billion US), as it begins to monetize its user data later this year. 

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