The Real-Name Blogger Registration System
(Southern Weekend) By Zhao Ling (赵凌). October 31, 2006.
Several tens of millions of Chinese bloggers are concerned about the fate of their blogs. On October 31, this reporter learned that the real-name blogger registration system is about to enter on the agenda list of the Ministry of Information Industry. This means that there is a chance that test trials of the real-name blogger registration system will be held soon.
This piece of news came from the second research team meeting of the Chinese Internet Society held on October 31.
According to what the reporter learned, the opinions of the Internet research team members have been synthesized and the Internet administrators will accept the advice of the experts to test how to register information for one trial group of users and then develop the operational protocol gradually. There is no specific schedule and no website has volunteered to become the test site.
The heated debate over the past week did not slow down the study of the real-name blogger registration system. For the Internet industry, the past two week has seen the proposal of the real-name registration system progress to the idea of having test sites.
Since the Chinese Internet Society which is studying the real-name blogger registration system is an industrial organization under the auspices of the Ministry of Information Industry (the former secretary-general of the Chinese Internet Society Jiang Yaoping is the current deputy minister at the Ministry of Information Industry), every move in the real-name blogger registration system is taken to be the official will.
But this decision from the moment of proposal has been testing the patience of the Chinese Internet users.
Actually, there have been two internal meetings concerning the real-name blogger registration system. The first meeting about the real-name blogger registration system two weeks ago was disclosed by the media, and it caused a stir everywhere.
In first of the two meetings about the real-name registration system, absent members of the blogger study team included the three major websites (Sina.com. Sohu.com and Netease) as well as Bokee.com. Fewer than 10 of the members of the eighteen members of the blogger study group attended.
The chief editor of the People Net's Strong Nation blogging service Zhang Aijing said that at the second meeting, "the consensus was that the real-name blogger registration is the general trend."
Yet, no such consensus was reached in the first meeting when the aforementioned four big websites were absent. The proposal to introduce the real-name blogger registration system had been a big surprise to them.
According to what the reporter leaned, the members of the blogger study team received an email notice on October 11 about the meeting.
The email notice stated directly: Blogs are developing rapidly in China and has received a high degree of attention from various government departments and various sectors of society. The Ministry of Information Industry intends to increase its supervision of blogs. Based upon a request from the Ministry of Information Industry, the Chinese Internet Society's blog research team will study the "real-name blogger registration system" and report the results back to the Ministry of Information Industry to use for their policy decisions.
The notice also listed six topics of discussion: the appropriate scope of the real-name blogger registration system; the various rights and duties in the administration of the real-name blogger registration system; the information collected from the bloggers through the real-name blogger registration system; the measures taken to guarantee that the identification information will be accurate; the problems that may be encountered when trying to manage the real-name blogger registration system; the scheduling of the implementation of the real-name blogger registration system.
This was a sudden request for information The issue was "how to make sure the real-name blogger registration system works" and not "whether to have a real-name blogger registration system or not." The Internet Society gave its members one day to prepare proposals which must be faxed to the secretariat of the research team before 5pm on the next day.
At 9am, October 13, the meeting would be held at the Chinese Internet Society's office. There were only two days between the email through the proposal to the meeting.
According to meeting participants, while it was hoped that people would speak their minds, most representatives did not speak out actively because the suddenness of the appearance of the topic and the lack of time for preparations.
Liu Zhijiang, the office manager of the Chinese Internet Society, chaired the meeting. He told our reporter: "It was an emergency assignment for us. We received the request from the Ministry of Information Industry one week ago."
After the proposal of a real-name blogger registration system became known to the public, the heated public debate caused Chinese Internet Society Secretary-General Huang Chengqing to clarify that there is no formal policy to implement a real-name blogger registration system as yet. But Huang also clarified that if there is a real-name blogger registration system, then the blogger can still use an alias in public but the real name will be required for the back office. He emphasized that a registering the real names of bloggers is the direction in which China will be heading.
The "future" will be arriving soon. On October 25, the Chinese Internet Society confirmed that it has forwarded its proposal for the registration system to the Ministry of Information Industry.
On October 31, the second research meeting was held. Under the assumption that "real-name blogger registration is the general trend," the discussion went into how to use trials to test the implementation and operation.
"When something is small, people don't pay any attention. When something becomes influential, then it is necessary to worry about supervision." Chinese Internet Society office manager Liu Zhijiang told the reporter.
As a principal leader of the Chinese Internet Society, Liu Zhijiang and the blogger research team completed "The Chinese Blogger Study" in August this year. This is the single most authoritative research report in China.
Soon after the report was completed, the Chinese Internet Society received a request from the Ministry of Information Industry to study the real-name blogger registration system. Liu Zhijiang denied that there is any direction relationship between the blogger research report and the real-name registration system.
Internet administrators generally believe that the real-name registration system was intended to hold back some of the negative aspects of blogging.
Chinese Internet Society Industry Self-Discipline Committee secretary-general Yang Junzuo offered three reasons: the real-name blogger registration system will decrease the frequency of fraud, libel, personal attacks and similar problems; real names will make it quicker to confirm the identities of each other and save time during exchanges; the system will make it easier to build a harmonious Internet ecology and reduce the pressures on the blog service providers.
When Sichuan province first introduced its real-name blogger registration system, it had the same considerations. The provincial research department deputy director Li Houqiang told the media: "If you don't trample on other people's right to speech and you don't engage in activities outside of the law, you should not be afraid of using your real name. If you don't tell lies, you won't have a guilty conscience and you'll have nothing to be afraid of."
Qianlong Net blog service chief editor Shen Yang is a supporter of the real-name blogger registration system. He said that using a real name is a part of the system of trust. An economically developed and politically stable country needs to have a system of trust.
The numbers provided by the Internet Society shows that half of the netizens support a real-name blogger registration system. In the joint Internet poll conducted by New Cultural Daily and Sohu.com as of November 1, 25% supported and 75% opposed the real-name blogger registration system.
Bokee.com president Fang Xingdong was the first to introduce blogs into China. He said straight out that he is against any real-name blogger registration system. In his view, a real-name blogger registration system that violates the basic laws of the Internet will be "the biggest mistake in the history of the Internet in China!"
From a technical point of view, Fang Xingdong said, "I cannot imagine how the real-name registration system can be implemented. Right now, when we board an airplane, we have to go through the very primitive process of checking identification. How can you readily and quickly verify the identity of somebody over the Internet?" "You tell me. If an overseas Chinese wants to set up a blog with bokee.com, what can I do?" asked Fang Xingdong.
Xiao Qiang is the director of the China Internet Project at the Graduate School of Journalism, University of California at Berkeley. Concerning the assertion that the real-name blogger registration system can solve the problem of Internet violence and stamp out libel, Xiao Qiang said: "It is not that difficult to track down a libeler using current techniques."
Liu Zhijiang admits frankly that there is no privacy on the Internet, even without a real-name registration system. The leader of the Chinese Internet Society is well-versed in the technical aspects. He said, "If you make a connection to the Internet, there will be an IP address and you can be identified."
Blogger research team member lawyer Hu Gang said that the real-name blogger registration system should be consistent with the laws enacted by the National People's Congress or its Standing Committee, or the administrative policies issued by the State Council with respect to Internet. If these conditions do not exist, then the legitimacy of the real-name blogger registration system will be suspect.
Fang Xingdong ventured to say that if the Chinese bloggers lose their sense of basic security, they will choose to use overseas blog service providers and become exiles.
According to informed sources at the second blog research team meeting on October 31, a Chinese Internet Society leader said: It was too intense to have brought up a real-name blogger registration system; if instead a "blogger registration system" was proposed, the reaction would have been smaller than what is happening today.
Previously, Chinese Internet Society Secretary-General Huang Chengqing had rebutted opponents of the real-name blogger registration system: "The real-name blogger registration system has been successfully implemented in South Korea." South Korea has been cited as the successful model for real-name blogger registration.
Blog researcher Xiao Qiang told the reporter that there had been many problems with Internet libel and invasion of privacy at South Korean websites, and therefore the users were required to use their real names and 13-digit identity numbers to register.
"Although it was controversial, they checked public opinion before they introduced the policy and, at the time, a majority of Internet users supported the real-name registration system," Xiao Qiang explained further.
The rapid increase in Internet users and scope has brought negative influence through harmful information, posing a challenge to Internet management. In recent years, the government has invested a great deal of effort into Internet administration.
In terms of the system, many rules and regulations have been introduced to manage the information. From the other side, there have been educational efforts over the years to promote a civilized Internet through political principles such as the Eight Glories and Eight Shames.
As Fang Xingdong said, "The websites and the service providers must undertake the responsibility for effective supervision. Then the Chinese Internet can develop in a healthy and orderly manner." But he believes that government policies must be based upon the inherent qualities of the Internet, or else ineffective efforts can only negatively impact the authoritativeness of the government.
At the end of 2005, the Shenzhen Public Security Bureau demanded Shenzhen Tencent Corporation to register the QQ group founders and administrators under their real names, but this project died quietly when netizens resisted passively.
In June this year, the relevant government departments offered the "Proposal for real-name registration in online games" to ask online game players to register with real names. An online game company told the media: "This system has good intentions, but it will destroy the entire world of games." According to information, a huge number of adolescents went instead to private game servers that do not require checking of identification.
One of Fang Xingdong's jobs is to record a history of the development of blogging in China. This October has been unforgettable for Fang Xingdong.
"If the real-name blogger registration system is implemented, it will be the biggest event in 2006. It marks the point in time when the market-led Chinese blog industry saw the intervention of the visible hand of the government. The visible hand and the invisible hand will be influencing blogging in China."
Related Link: Debate over blog registration highlights issue of new media and the right to free expression in China David Bandurski, China Media Project