New policy requires Chinese influencers to display their personal information on Weibo

Image created by Oiwan Lam

The massive Chinese social media network Sina Weibo informed its platform’s most popular users last week that they must display their real identities, including names, gender, IP locations, as well as professional and educational background, on their account page starting at the end of October. 

The policy will first apply to Weibo users with more than 1 million followers and later extend to those with half a million followers. It is believed that other social media platforms in China will also follow the move.

China implemented the online real-name registration system in 2012. Under the policy, personal data are stored on the platforms and are invisible to other users. Last year, Chinese social media platforms started displaying the IP locations of social media users to crack down on online rumors, including witness accounts of social incidents such as protests. 

The latest change was confirmed by Weibo’s CEO Wang Gaofei, who briefly activated the personal information display on his profile page on October 20, 2023. Wang’s social credit status, employment, and professional and educational background were all listed on this profile page (See: screen capture of Wang's profile page via Weibo user @皇城根下刀笔吏)

The new policy triggered a heated debate on Chinese social media. Unexpectedly, online patriots, who are usually fairly united, split into two camps over the new requirements. 

Supporters argued that the policy could reduce online rumours and that influencers should bear more social responsibility and reveal their genuine identity to their readers. Among them is state-owned Global Times’ top commentator Hu Xijin, who commented on the new measure on Weibo on October 16:

一个大V在互联网上发言,公众应当知道他是谁,他周围的人则应当知道他在互联网上说了什么。把这个规则确立下来,我相信不会成为大V们正当发表言论的特殊障碍,相反,它只会提升互联网舆论场的真实质量。

因为后台实名早就施行了,哪个大V说了什么,平台和政府都能随时找到他,前台匿名实为对网民的隐瞒。言论自由通常指的是对公权力的防范,而非面向大众舆论场的特殊保护。根据这些年网络的实际情况,允许“从暗处开枪”讨论热点公共事件并且带节奏,对我们舆论场的健康显然弊大于利。

A big V (verified user) voicing on the internet should reveal their identity to the public. His acquaintance should also know what he says on the internet. This rule should not obstruct the big Vs’ appropriate speech but will increase the quality of the opinions on the internet. 

The backstage real-name system was implemented. Both the platforms and the government know what he has said and can find him if needed. The frontstage real name system is to prevent them from hiding the truth from other internet users. Freedom of expression is to counterbalance those who hold power, but it does not mean protecting those who attempt to influence the public. Judging from the online environment, allowing people to “open fire from the dark” and channel public opinion will have more adverse effects on the well-being of the public opinion domain. 

But not all online patriots agree with the policy. One patriotic opinion leader @皇城根下刀笔吏 (Huangcheng-genxia-daobili) considered shutting down his Weibo account, which has accumulated more than 2 million followers in reaction to the new policy:

以后万一我发表的某个观点,引得某些人不爽,组团给我工作单位打投诉电话的话,岂不分分钟搞得我可能连主业都不保?副业没挣到钱,主业也不保,现在经济环境又没那么好,中年人上有老下有小,不能承受失业,那还玩个毛线哈。
我这天天写微博,写了六七年,针对不同事情,发表了无数的观点。…但是粉丝群体数量大了之后,难免也有一些人不喜欢我的观点。这么搞下去的话,大V们全成了黑粉的靶子。…如果未来必须要以这种方式进行前台实名公开的话,我肯定不会公开。要么随便限流,要么关闭账号。

If I say something that pisses off others and they file complaints against my employer, I might lose my job. I don't make much money online; with the current economic environment and a family to take care of, I could not risk losing my job.

I have been writing on Weibo for six to seven years and express my opinions daily… I have accumulated a large number of fans, and inevitably, a few do not like my opinions. Once the policy is imposed, all big Vs would become hate targets… If the front-stage real identity policy is to be implemented in such a manner (as shown in Weibo’s CEO Wang Gaofei’s profile page), I would not allow that to happen. Either the platform restricts access to my page, or I will shut it down. 

Wuxin Jianying (@无心简影), a patriotic international news blogger with 1.4 million followers on Weibo, criticised the policy for facilitating bullying:

这么一前台实名,等于把个人隐私推到公众面前,当你的话得罪了某些激进的人,无论是饭圈拳师还是反贼,那么现在的前台实名等于帮他们省去了一半的开盒难度。
我在前年的时候被海外纸皮开盒过,电话被饱和轰炸,个人微信被骚扰,我也报了警,但基本上没什么用,不过我就一个单身汉,家里三只猫也不怕网暴… 相关部门一边在严惩网络暴力,一边又为网络暴力提供便捷,这难道不是个笑话吗?

Frontstage display of real identity would expose personal privacy to the public. Once your speech has offended the extreme ones, such as those in fan circles or overseas dissidents, the real identity display would help them dig out all our personal data. A few years ago, I was doxxed by overseas scums who kept calling my mobile phone. I was also harassed on WeChat. I reported to the police, who could do nothing to help me. However, I am single, and my three cats are free from cyberbullying… It is such a joke that the authorities keep cracking down on cyber violence on the one hand while, on the other hand, facilitating and enhancing such acts. 

Tsinghua law professor Lao Dongyan warned that outing people's real identities may extend cyber violence to real life if the name of the internet user is distinctive. Moreover, the personal data would also facilitate other crimes, such as targeted scams. 

Weibo user @无边桃炎 (Wubian Taoyan), who has 1.7 million followers, is worried about a surge in gender violence targeting female bloggers. She shared a conversation with her friend on Weibo:

A: 現在兩性對立嚴重,我真的非常擔心女博主們
B: 線下騷擾更容易了

A: 男性還有些防範力量,女性不知要怎麼辧, 我不擔心我自己,因為我已經歷過一次, 那種獨居女性怎辧, 從法律,到警力,都無法保障博主們安全, 他們不會去防範未發生的事,只有發生以後才會介入…

A: I am very worried about female bloggers, given the antagonistic gender relations online

B: There will be more offline harassment 

A: Male has a bit more physical strength to fight back; it would be more threatening for females. I am not worrying about myself as I have gone through this once. What if the female lives alone? The law and the police can’t protect the bloggers. They won’t take preventive measures. They only intervene after violence has taken place.

In fact, quite a few influencers have shut down their Weibo account recently thanks to the new policy. For example, anonymous patriotic rapper @幼稚园杀手 (kindergarten killer) deleted his Weibo account on October 16, 2023.

As for overseas Chinese who have already migrated to X, formerly called Twitter, many are laughing at the news. For example @torontobigface said:

Big V's real identity display will be enforced soon. I expect many jokes will pop up. Like last time the IP location display was enforced, the online patriotic account Diba’s IP was in Taiwan. There is no privacy in China. After enforcing the policy, people can easily find out which company is registered under your name, and your plane itinerary and address can be dug out. We will see a lot of surprises. 

Meanwhile, video bloggers from the video streaming platform Bilibibi also received notifications that their real identities would be displayed on their profile page. 

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