China bans pseudonyms like Obama, Putin on internet

Pseudonyms such as "Obama" and "Putin" will no longer be available to Chinese citizens who wish to hide their identity on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, following new internet restrictions implemented by the country's authorities, the official newspaper China Daily reported Thursday.

IANS| Updated: Feb 05, 2015, 22:50 PM IST

Beijing: Pseudonyms such as "Obama" and "Putin" will no longer be available to Chinese citizens who wish to hide their identity on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, following new internet restrictions implemented by the country's authorities, the official newspaper China Daily reported Thursday.

Internet accounts that use names impersonating known personalities, allude to religion or pornography or endanger national security will be censored, according to a new rule imposed by China's Cyberspace Administration.

The rule requires all internet users to register themselves using their real names on all virtual platforms, including blogs, social networking sites and mobile message services.

This new rule follows similar measures introduced in 2012, this time exercising more control over aliases used by internet users to surf the web.

The administration has asked all website operators and internet companies to verify all pre-existing accounts and delete those that do not comply with the new conditions, says China Daily.

The new rules add to the series of mechanisms used by the Chinese authorities to tighten their grip over internet use in the country, such as restrictions on VPNs (virtual private networks) and a ban on the use of Gmail since December.

While the Chinese government defends these measures as a means to erase damaging information from the internet, critics argue that it is a case of interference in users' privacy.

A rule imposed in 2013 stipulated that a message cannot be re-sent over 500 times on social networking sites without the author of the message being held legally responsible for it.

According to this rule, if the authorities consider the original text to contain "subversive content", its author can be imprisoned for up to three years.

Identifying the author will become much easier when citizens are forbidden from using pseudonyms.

China's efforts to regulate its national cyberspace have been widely interpreted as a restriction on freedom of expression, but such views are informed by recurrent prejudices, a editorial piece by the state-run Xinhua news agency claimed while dismissing critics of the new rule.

Virtual space on the internet does not fall outside the reach of the law, the editorial added.

"China always protects and promotes freedom of expression on the internet," but on the condition that national laws, moral principles and norms are obeyed, Xinhua observed.