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This article was published on May 9, 2012

Sina Weibo to introduce ‘user contract’ on May 28 as China’s microblog crackdown continues [Updated]

Sina Weibo to introduce ‘user contract’ on May 28 as China’s microblog crackdown continues [Updated]
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.

Fresh from admitting that it hasn’t fully implemented China’s new rules for microblogs, Web giant Sina is set to introduce a ‘user contract’ for its popular Twitter-like Sina Weibo service at the end of May, as it continues to battle to control sensitive information on the site.

The terms, spotted by former TNW editor Chad Catacchio, are in an initial trial phase but will be introduced across the Sina Weibo service on May 28. The move will also see a ‘community committee’, which includes members of the public, established to implement the terms of service.

Update: The contract will also be based on a points system. See below for further details.

The list of do’s-and-don’t’s contains some rather interesting terms which non-Chinese readers can see in this translated document, which has been worked up by a number of anonymous bilinguals.

While there are a number of standard clauses, article 13 stands out as being particularly of concern given the government’s continued efforts to control the flow of information on Sina Weibo and other social media sites:

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.

Article 14) Users may not publish untrue information. For information about what untrue information is, please see “Sina Weibo Community Management Regulations (Trial Phase).”

The community management regulations contain a number of stipulations but, most notably, a clause that explains how Weibo users that breach the terms will be dealt with:

Article 23) Processing of regulation violations includes: the processing of content and accounts.

Content processing includes: deletion, preventing reposting, disabling commenting or annotation, etc.

Account processing includes: preventing posting of weibos, forbidding following, and deletion of the account.

These punishments are already regularly administered — via the ‘rumor control team’ — so Sina’s move to put them in writing is, in a positive sense, providing greater transparency of its processes. The other side to that argument is that, now acknowledged, the practices could increase significantly going forward.

The committee itself will be made of regular members, recruited from Sina Weibo’s user base, who manage issues where Sina Weibo users are in conflict and ‘expert’ members, who rule over ‘false information’ that is posted to the service – the real power.

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 appears to be a move to appease authorities and take the heat off the Sina Weibo.

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 (something Twitter doesn’t have) deactivated for three days to allow the service to be ‘cleaned’.

Indeed, Sina is one of three Chinese Web giants that recently publicly pledged to fight against rumors on the Internet, and it remains to be seen if the other two — Baidu and Tencent — will introduce new schemes to increase the policing of their services.

The Chinese government is fearful that it is losing control of information as news continues to break on sites like Sina Weibo, in contrast to times when it a greater level of control over what its citizens were told.

The ruling Communist Party is not afraid to act on media that it feels are causing it problems, on or off line, and this week it expelled Al Jazeera’s China correspondent, forcing the news agency to leave the country. In the past it has taken action against microbloggers, sentencing one woman to a year in a labor camp for a retweet.

Update: Sina is introducing a points system that will see users docked points for breaching the regulations. Marbridge Daily has more details:

Under the new system, each Weibo account will begin with an initial “credit score” of 80 points, with a maximum of 100 points that can be obtained through user participation in various promotional activities, not yet specified by Sina Weibo.

Weibo accounts on which user misconduct has transpired will, adversely, suffer point deductions. When an account’s credit score falls below 60 points, a warning reading “Low Credit” will appear on the corresponding section of that user’s microblog; accounts that drop to 0 credit points will be canceled.

[Sina] has also disclosed that the points system will incorporate a recovery mechanism, whereby after two months free of bad behavior, an account can have its credit score restored to 80 points.

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