China netizens required to register account names for all platforms beginning March 1

China netizens will no longer be able to use nicknames such as "Obama" and "Putin" for their Internet accounts under new regulations that will take effect on March 1, in the latest move by the government to tighten its control over cyberspace. -- PHO
China netizens will no longer be able to use nicknames such as "Obama" and "Putin" for their Internet accounts under new regulations that will take effect on March 1, in the latest move by the government to tighten its control over cyberspace. -- PHOTO: EPA -- PHOTO: EPA

BEIJING (China Daily/Asia News Network, Reuters) - Chinese will no longer be able to use nicknames such as "Obama" and "Putin" for their Internet accounts under new regulations that will take effect on March 1, in the latest move by the government to tighten its control over cyberspace.

Besides the "inappropriate" and "unlawful" screen names, accounts pretending to be government organisations, celebrities and officials will also be banned, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said on Wednesday.

The prohibition will also apply to nicknames that appear to advertise cults or pornography, or that damage state security.

The new rule requires netizens to use registered account names on virtually all platforms, including blogs, social networking tools and messaging applications, said Xu Feng, director of CAC's mobile network management bureau.

The authority promised to set up a complaint mechanism, giving users a chance to reapply for their accounts if they were shut down.

Website operators and Internet companies have been asked to verify accounts and clean up those that are unqualified, the CAC said.

Since last year, the administration has repeatedly asked Internet firms to vet accounts to keep cyberspace "clean and tidy", including by registering the real identities of their users.

Among these companie are Tencent Holdings Ltd, which runs hugely popular instant messaging services WeChat and QQ, and microblog operator Weibo Corp, as well as several online forums.

Weibo strongly supports adoption of the regulations and will strengthen its management efforts, a spokesman said by e-mail.

In the past month, Weibo has removed 293 accounts with “harmful names”, including those which are political, pornographic and related to public security, he said. Tencent declined immediate comment.

China operates one of the world’s most sophisticated online censorship mechanisms, known as the Great Firewall. Censors keep a tight grip on what can be published online, particularly content seen as potentially undermining the ruling Communist Party.

On Tuesday, the CAC accused NetEase Inc, a US-listed Chinese web portal, of spreading rumours and pornography. And last month, 133 WeChat accounts were shut down for “distorting history”, state media reported.

Operators of forums, micro blogs and messaging platforms have been ordered to hire a monitoring team to take down illegal information.

"We found some accounts used names of the Central disciplinary inspector or well-known economic specialists to publish false information. Such behavior threatens the healthy development of the Web," said Xu.

Wang Sixin, a law professor at Communication University of China, said a tighter grip on illegal Internet information is very necessary.

"The account registration policy has been loose since the Internet came to China," Wang said. "Poor account management triggered an array of problems such as online fraud and an overflow of pornography."

"Now that there are more than 2 billion online accounts, it is time to shut down malicious accounts," Wang added.

He said Internet service providers need to bear much of the responsibility to stop illegal activity because they are the biggest beneficiaries of China's booming cybereconomy.