James Vincent, UK Independent
The new laws are aimed at clamping down on the dissemination of political and foreign news not been approved by China’s state run media and follows similar laws in 2012 targeting Weibo, the country’s Twitter-like service.
Although mobile messaging apps are mainly used in Western countries for personal messaging with friends, in Asian markets they often act as tools for media outlets and bloggers to broadcast posts and stories.
The new regulations, which come into immediate effect according to state-run news agency Xinhua, therefore only apply to the 5.8 million “public accounts” that the government says spread information related to “terrorism, violence and pornography, as well as slanders and rumours”.
Drawn up by the State Internet Information Office (SIIO), the law will mainly target mobile messaging app WeChat (known in China as Weixin), which launched three years ago and now boasts nearly 400 million active monthly users.
The government also confirmed that it has been blocking access to two rival South Korean-owned messaging apps, Line and KakaoTalk, citing “antiterrorism” concerns as the reason the two services have been unavailable for the past few weeks.
Despite the hopes of Western governments that social media would allow Chinese citizens to openly discuss their leader’s policies, research published earlier this year suggests that the government’s efforts to control the conversation online have been successful.
A joint study by Sichuan University and the University of North Carolina found that local officials had become extremely proficient at using social media to provide a “human” face to the Chinese government, offering information on public events, tips about travel and weather conditions and quickly responding to questions from citizens.
The study concluded that although this “mundane and conciliatory use of social media” does not match the “battering ram” theory of China’s online propaganda it’s still effective at reinforcing “existing power structures” within the country.
The new regulations covering mobile messaging apps suggest that the Chinese government is quite happy with this approach and is simply extending its reach to cover new communication platforms as they emerge.
Jiang Jun, a spokesman for the State Internet Information Office summed up the government’s approach by saying that cyberspace could not afford to become “a space full of disorder and hostility” which allows the “dissemination of rumours, violence, cheating, sex and terrorism.”
“This is the true freedom of speech,” said Jun.
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