Friday, September 5, 2014

SIIO: New Instant Messaging Rules “Strict,” Represent “True Freedom of Speech”

On August 8, 2014, the state sponsored Global Times published an article entitled “New Rules for Social Media.” Some excerpts:
China on Thursday passed a new rule regulating public accounts on instant messaging services, requiring real-name registration for account operators in a bid to crack down on online rumors, libel and illegal information involving pornography and violence.
. . . .
In response to questions as to whether the new rule might be a tool to suppress freedom of speech, Xu Feng, head of mobile Internet management at the SIIO, said that it will promote the quality of instant messaging services to ensure that citizens enjoy the convenience of such services and called it the "true freedom of speech," according to an official Q&A provided by the Xinhua News Agency.
. . . .
Other than limiting who can post political news, the new rule does not really interfere with the platform's development, said Fang [Xingdong, founder of China's leading high-tech think tank].
From the official Xinhua Q&A section entitled “Do the Rules Restrict Speech” (规定是否让言论受限?):
Jiang Jun (SIIO Spokesperson): The "Weixin Ten Articles" are relatively strict when it comes to publicly posting information, especially current events and political news. But with respect to ordinary users, it only requires they obey the "seven bottom lines," and they will enjoy ample freedom of speech based on these "seven bottom lines."
Xu Feng: The Internet space cannot become a space that is disorderly and filled with disharmony. There is not a single country in the world that allows the publication of rumors or information that is violent, fraudulent, pornographic or terrorizing. Freedom and order have a dialectical relationship, and every individual's freedom must be exercised within a legal scope, may not go beyond certain bottom lines, or hamper others' freedom." The watchwords of the issuance of the "Weixin Ten Articles" are "Bottom Line Thinking" and "Multi-faceted References," and this is beneficial for industry development, improving companies' services, better safeguarding the legal rights and interests of Internet users, and in this way true freedom will be realized.
The "seven bottom lines" are:
  1. Laws and Regulations
  2. The Socialist System
  3. The National Interest
  4. Citizens' Legal Rights and Interests
  5. Social Order
  6. Moral Norms
  7. Factual Information
Although it was listed third, the article stated:
The National Interest is to be placed above all others, because without the nation we have nothing. That is the way of the physical world, and even more so in the online world. We must forge an online patriotic culture, with the soul of online culture resting on the national interest.
Regarding the socialist system, the article said:
This is our fundamental institution, this is a bottom line we cannot neglect, whether in real life on the Internet, we eat and live socialism. We cannot undermine ourselves.
The “Interim Rules on the Development and Administration of Instant Messaging Tools and Public Information Services” (即时通信工具公众信息服务发展管理暂行规定) apply to anyone “employing instant messaging tools as public information services,” and include the following provisions:
Providers of instant messaging tool services must require their users to:
  • register using their actual identity information; and
  • enter into an agreement whereby they commit to abide by the "seven bottom lines.”
In addition, providers of instant messaging tool services must:
  • verify the identity of anyone applying to operate an account that allows them to post information to the general public (as opposed to a private group of designated users); and
  • register anyone they approve to operate public accounts with “a government agency responsible for Internet information content.”
Finally, the rules provide that only government licensed “Internet News Information Services” may use their public accounts to post or repost “news relating to current events or politics.” All other public accounts are prohibited from publishing or republishing current events and political news unless otherwise authorized.
According to the “Rules on the Administration of Internet News Services” (互联网新闻信息服务管理规定) issued jointly by the State Council and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology in 2005, “news relating to current events or politics” (时政类新闻) is defined as including "reports and commentaries related to political, economic, military and diplomatic affairs as well as breaking events" (有关政治、经济、军事、外交等社会公共事务的报道、评论,以及有关社会突发事件的报道、评论).