China's Sina Weibo creates 'user contract,' increasing censorship

After government criticism and a temporary shutdown of Web comments, China's biggest microblogging site plans to introduce a "user contract" that could impede the free flow of information.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
2 min read

Just a couple of weeks after Chinese censors lambasted the social network Sina Weibo for "rumor" mongering, the Twitter-like service announced plans to establish a "user contract" by the end of this month. This comes shortly after the uberpopular site also promised to fight against rumors on the Internet.

According to tech news site The Next Web, which got its hands on the contract and translated it, there are several points that look like they could impede the free flow of information.

It seems as if, for Sina Weibo, the point of the contract is to have greater transparency and be able to better control information on the site. However, there's a danger that this move could be precedent setting for more Web sites in China.

This is The Next Web's translated version of Article 13, which it found to be of particular concern:

Article 13) Users have the right to publish information, but may not publish any information that:
  1. 1. Opposes the basic principles established by the constitution
  2. 2. Harms the unity, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of the nation
  3. 3. Reveals national secrets, endangers national security, or threatens the honor or interests of the nation
  4. 4. Incites ethnic hatred or ethnic discrimination, undermines ethnic unity, or harms ethnic traditions and customs
  5. 5. Promotes evil teachings and superstitions
  6. 6. Spreads rumors, disrupts social order, and destroys societal stability
  7. 7. Promotes illicit activity, gambling, violence, or calls for the committing of crimes
  8. 8. Calls for disruption of social order through illegal gatherings, formation of organizations, protests, demonstrations, mass gatherings, and assemblies
  9. 9. Has other content, which is forbidden by laws, administrative regulations, and national regulations

At the end of April, Sina Weibo came under fire by the government for fueling "toxic rumors" about a possible political coup. According to The Next Web, the social network was punished by having user comments deactivated for three days.

China is a blogging and microblogging powerhouse with hundreds of millions of people using microblogging Web sites daily. Sina Weibo has more than 300 million users, which is three-fold Twitter's more than 100 million active users. The growth of blogging sites has resulted in a rapid expansion of places where Chinese people can express themselves -- something the government has long viewed as a threat.