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This article was published on May 28, 2012

Chinese microblog service Sina Weibo’s new rules and punishment system go live

Chinese microblog service Sina Weibo’s new rules and punishment system go live
Jon Russell
Story by

Jon Russell

Jon Russell was Asia Editor for The Next Web from 2011 to 2014. Originally from the UK, he lives in Bangkok, Thailand. You can find him on T Jon Russell was Asia Editor for The Next Web from 2011 to 2014. Originally from the UK, he lives in Bangkok, Thailand. You can find him on Twitter, Angel List, LinkedIn.

Chinese microblog Sina Weibo has introduced its ‘user contact’  system in full today, after the initiative — which gives users a list of terms and conditions for the Twitter-like service — completed a near three-week trial period.

The regulations, which we outlined when they were first published earlier this month, include a points system which will dock users for breaching the terms and the creation of a user committee who will enforce them, and mediate any issues.

As you’d expect, given the Chinese government’s ongoing crackdown, a number of the clauses are open to fairly broad interpretation, and that has caused concern among Sina Weibo’s user base, which recently passed 300 million registered microbloggers.

For example, as this translated document explains, article 13 of the contract has a number of noteworthy clauses:

Article 13) Users have the right to publish information, but may not publish any information that:

1. Opposes the basic principles established by the constitution
2. Harms the unity, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of the nation
3. Reveals national secrets, endangers national security, or threatens the the honor or interests of the nation
4. Incites ethnic hatred or ethnic discrimination, undermines ethnic unity, or harms ethnic traditions and customs
5. Promotes evil teachings and superstitions
6. Spreads rumors, disrupts social order, and destroys societal stability
7. Promotes illicit activity, gambling, violence, or calls for the committing of crimes
8. Calls for disruption of social order through illegal gatherings, formation of organizations, protests, demonstrations, mass gatherings and assemblies
9. Has other content which is forbidden by laws, administrative regulations and national regulations.

The China Media Project elaborates further:

According to the regulations, users logging more than 5 posts of “sensitive information” would be prevented from posting for 48 hours and have the relevant content deleted. Further, those users posting “sensitive content” with “malicious intent” would be prevented from posting for more than 48 hours and face the possibility of having their account terminated

In spite of the strong wording, Sina already has an active rumor control team that polices its platform for ‘unsuitable’ content, so much of this is simply confirming practices that have been ongoing for some time.

The process of censorship itself is now in black and white (albeit open to interpretation) and so too is the policy of removing persistent offenders. Weibo users start with 80 points, those whose accounts reach 0 can be deleted by Sina.

Interestingly, we spoke to a number of Weibo users, a high proportion of whom were unaware of the existence of the user contract, let alone that it is being introduced today. The rules are unlikely to affect most Weibo users and their content, leaving many unaware of the introduction.

Sina recently admitted that it has failed to fully implement the real-name verification rule that Chinese authorities introduced in March, which is aimed at making microbloggers more accountable for information that they post. The company fears further actions from the state for this and, with that in mind, the user contract is a move to appease authorities.

Sina was reprimanded by the Chinese government for failing to adequately control its service when rumor of a political coup spread like wildfire in April. Its punishment saw its comment feature deactivated for three days to allow the service to be ‘cleaned’.

Update: It is worth noting that there is no obvious sign of the points system being introduced as yet. User profiles do not contain new scores.

We’ve reached out to Sina for more details about the implementation.