New draft rules portend more internet censorship in China

China’s internet regulator has released a new set of draft rules that, if implemented, would impose stricter censorship of comments posted to social media platforms, MIT Technology Review reports.

Why it matters: Tighter restrictions could close off what few spaces remain for Chinese people to speak their minds online.

  • Comments and videos posted to social media platforms have become one of the only ways Chinese people living through COVID lockdowns can communicate their desperation for food and medical care with each other and the outside world.

The big picture: The Chinese government has already created one of the toughest internet censorship regimes in the world, enforced in large part by content reviewers employed by social media companies to police posts.

  • A requirement that social media accounts be registered under real ID numbers means that Chinese security officials can easily locate and detain netizens who have written content deemed illegal.

Details: The Cyberspace Administration of China on Friday released draft guidelines that would require closer scrutiny of comments largely ignored by censors, such as replies to comments and messages featured on the screen during livestreaming.

  • The rules also state comments should be reviewed before they are posted, a process that social media platforms currently apply to some but not all comments.

What to watch: If the draft rule “about mandating pre-publish reviews is to be strictly enforced — which would require reading billions of public messages posted by Chinese users every day — it will force the platforms to dramatically increase the number of people they employ to carry out censorship ,” writes MIT Technology Review’s Zeyi Yang.

  • “The tricky question is, no one knows if the government intends to enforce this immediately.”

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