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China tightens screws on microbloggers

The Beijing city government is requiring users of Twitter-like sites to register their real names with the sites, for government verification. The move comes as more and more citizens are microblogging, and as more and more protests have erupted within the country.

Beijing's city government has announced new rules that require users of local Twitter-like sites to register their real names with the services for verification by government authorities--a move apparently meant to quash anonymous posts critical of China's leaders and rob dissidents of a tool for organizing protests.

Quoting China's state-run Xinhua news agency, The Wall Street Journal reported that state secrets, material that threatens national security, posts that inspire ethnic resentment or discrimination, and posts involving rallies that "disrupt social order" were also being banned from microblogging sites.

The announcement comes as more and more citizens in China are using sites like Sina Weibo to post text messages, photos, and video, the Journal notes, and as the country has seen a series of protests erupt recently over social and economic conditions. Demonstrations by villagers in the south of the country are currently threatening to galvanize a large-scale movement. In addition, China's two top leadership positions will change hands in 2012, an event that happens only every 10 years.

Sina Weibo, one of the country's top microblogging sites, said recently that it had 230 million registered accounts as of September, with only about 800,000 verified identities, the Journal reported.

The paper also quoted Tong Liqiang, executive vice president of Beijing's Internet information office, as saying that as a "service to society," verification will be provided free to companies by public security agencies. The Xinhua news agency and the People's Daily newspaper have recently been referring to Internet rumors as "psychological drugs" and a "malignant tumor," poisoning society, the Journal reported.

For now the new rules apply only to microblogging sites based in Beijing, and it's not yet clear when they'll take effect, the Journal said. Also, no penalties were mentioned in association with the new regulations. The Journal reported that the government seems to have no plans to shut down microblogging services outright.

China's leaders, of course, weren't blind to the unfolding of the "Arab Spring" during the past year or so, when governments in the Middle East seemed to topple like dominoes, with the help of social media sites.