Media regulation

Say goodbye to anonymity on the Internet. Again.

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Daily Sunshine
December 7, 2009

At China's Seventh International Internet Culture Exposition, an official from the Ministry of Culture spoke on the need to further regulate China's online public space.

Among the remarks made by Tuo Zuhai, vice-director of the ministry's Cultural Market Department, was a mention of a "real name system" (实名制) for the Internet. The idea that netizens should be required to register with the government before using the Internet has been hotly debated in the past, which may explain why today's Daily Sunshine chose to make the report its top headline.

The article inside was reprinted from Beijing Times:

Tuo Zuhai said that the Internet had become an important basis for social development and had given rise to new cultural industries and modes of transmission. And because activities on the Internet were part of life in human society, a new model for public order in online society needs to be devised based on technology and formed through legal channels: "Legislation should be accelerated to carry this out."
...
Tuo revealed that ministries are looking into an online real name system, as well as issues involving virtual property, a rating system for online content, online IPR protection, and cures for Internet addiction.

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There are currently 9 Comments for Say goodbye to anonymity on the Internet. Again..

Comments on Say goodbye to anonymity on the Internet. Again.

regarding the IPR thing:
a chinese friend of mine complained loudly to me today: "what will we do when we can't freely download music and movies anymore?!" i found that quite funny and told her that this is just china becoming a bit more developed like the Europe and the US... hehe

Basically the party only officially import 10 to 20(sorry,I forget the exact number) foreign movies,that's quite a small amount.Even the movies which made it in to the local cinemas are grossly cut and censored.And to the music,a simple fact here: the Chinese version of the M.J. memorial album "This Is It" had had one song cut out-the famous "smooth criminal"-just because the name.
This will not make China more developed,this will only make the authorities have complete authority to decided what we can watch and what we cannot,just like in the cultural revolution.

Not to rush to Zhongyang's support here, but in certain respects internet anonymity cheapens the discourse substantially and allows crackpots to freely spread their idiocy. Everyone has their own favorite personal examples, but I'm thinking at the moment of folks on Huanqiu's BBS forums, for instance, who have no compulsion about gloating over the American nuclear strikes on Japan in 1945.

Earlier this week we saw anonymous netizen comments on a Huanqiu forum regarding a cache of Hiroshima photos, notations which included "America bombed them really well...now it's up to China to finish the job with another 12 bombs...America was too humane...compared with the totality of atrocities by the Japanese imperial army in China, [the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were] infinitesimal..." etc.

"Really?," I would like to say, as a scion of the nation that also needs to think about the meaning of Hiroshima, "would you feel comfortable saying that to my face? Or scrawling that on a public wall with an attribution?" In front of a picture of a hibakusha (被爆者 - atomic bomb survivor), which is where the comments appeared, no less?

At the risk of gross oversimplification, perhaps Xidan's noble Democracy Wall has turned into a digital urinal for people wearing oversized masks.

More to the present point, in its own self-interest the CCP really ought not to move to a system whereby commentators all must take up their own heavy identities like some kind of Han-dynasty printing block. After all, internet anonymity fuels precisely the kind of virulent xenophobia which the CCP now feeds upon. It gives one the right to call Japanese people devils, North Korean people snakes, and suggest that the Dalai Lama is a wolf. (Well, the last one was promoted by Xinhua itself, if I'm not mistaken.)

If everyone had to use their real names on the internet, wouldn't that mean less cheerleading, chest-thumping, and xenophobic race-baiting in fora like Huanqiu's? Does the CCP really want to go down that road? Don't the anonymous people who call out the Japanese plot (to take over Diaoyutai, of course) via avatars of tattooed babies smoking cigarettes perform a vital service for the Party?

Finally, a point about uniqueness may be in order: China is far from the only bad guy when it comes to the broader discussion about ownership of digital data; the Francophone press has been up in arms lately about Google's recent statements that "the right to be forgotten" (e.g., that one can eliminate one's own digital tracings) really doesn't exist after all. But that is, I suppose, another conversation. In the meantime, maybe I should slip on another rabid identity and start a flame war with myself...my word.

...in certain respects internet anonymity cheapens the discourse substantially and allows crackpots to freely spread their idiocy.

True. But forums where anything goes do gain a reputation of cesspools unsuitable for intelligent conversation, and their idiocy is largely self-contained. Moderators who realize that there's more to online discourse than simply shouting at each other can create space for that already.

Besides, the root justification of anonymity-stripping proposals is less the "digital urinal" and more the human flesh searchers, libelers, and harassers. But the authorities have demonstrated in the past their ability to track down people who have broken actual laws, so what's another registration requirement going to bring them in that regard?

Prof. Cathcart -

You: "Not to rush to Zhongyang's support here..."

Me: Too late.

You: "[I]nternet anonymity cheapens the discourse substantially."

Me: Right. Like the discourse was so elevated prior to the advent of the internet. Regarding your example concerning the Global Times' forum - my guess is that multitudes of Chinese would be happy to take credit (i.e., use their real names) for the idea that the U.S. might have dropped an extra atomic bomb or three on Japan. I don't get it - what am I supposed to think about a person (a professor of East Asian history, no less) who laments the quality of discourse at a website such as 环球? It's a bit like looking for intimacy in a brothel, if you ask me.

Your idea that real name registration would make the internet a much nicer place to hang out and talk about stuff seems willfully naive at best. What about the costs? How might real name registration make things worse? I dislike mindless expressions of Chinese nationalism as much as you do, but real name registration is hardly the solution.

You: "At the risk of gross oversimplification..."

Me: Bingo. You said it, not me.

You: "[I]nternet anonymity fuels precisely the kind of virulent xenophobia which the CCP now feeds upon."

Me: Again, utter nonsense. Chinese nationalism predates the founding of both the PRC and the CCP. Indeed, virulent forms of Chinese nationalism are certain to survive both the fall of the CCP and the founding of the next "New China."

Shame on you, Professor Cathcart, for defending the Party. What China needs is not more oppression, but less. Over time, freedom of speech would elevate not only the Chinese people's tolerance for new ideas but also the quality of public discourse. In the end, "real name registration" is a shibboleth. (Welcome to the Party, professor.) Vote for less control, not more. Stupidity, ignorance and hatred are defining characteristics of the human animal. Get used to it.

Finally:

You: "[Internet anonymity] gives one the right to call Japanese people devils, North Korean people snakes, and suggest that the Dalai Lama is a wolf."

Me: Too true. Then again, in a place like China, internet anonymity also allows one to speak truth to power. As often as not, vile expressions of mindless hostility and racism serve to inspire aversion, not respect. Case in point: the nutty book 中国不高兴 was widely ridiculed by educated Chinese who openly dismissed its authors as pathologically angry and paranoid. Similarly, allowing the KKK to march in the streets of America does nothing so well as argue against its hateful worldview.

Best,

Stinky (not my real name)

Stinky, if in fact you are a student with access to publications and you bothered to read my work, you might be a bit less likely to "shame" me for allegedly supporting the CCP. This December's _China Quarterly_ (assuming you are familiar with that periodical) carries one of my articles on Sino-Japanese relations, a piece which anonymous peer reviewers (anonymous yet credible, as distinct from your own barbs) criticized me for a kind of axiomatic criticism of all CCP actions.

And Danwei has previously linked to a couple of other posts of mine in which I'm critical of censorship and Hu Jintao's 1984-style rigidity, which you also probably missed. But I appreciate your calling me a lackey of Zhongyang, really!

My little missive above merely reflects personal view based on about eight months of blogging and paying attention to such things as your own questionable comments, and my words shouldn't be interpreted as any kind of prescription for Chinese policy.

It's a little something called a caveat, something to think about, not some indication I've been assimilated by the CCP borg.

What drives me nuts is being assailed by random people with inane handle names like yours who may or may not be utter crackpots. As I understand it, you're allegedly a graduate student somewhere in the Anglophone world? And using your anonymity to fight for internet freedom in China how? Dude, you don't even have a blog where I can examine your own coherent, independently-formed essays. All I've got to go on are a few random sideswipe comments as a basis to take you seriously, which I don't, because for some reason you have a tendency to indulge in ad hominem attacks when they aren't necessary.

As an academic I am certainly interested in the feedback that comes from the blogosphere (and from Huanqiu readers, who aren't uniformly the Luddites you suggest they are), but having no way of determining credibility is frustrating. I think it goes beyond some obsession with hierarchies and rituals that determine status in academia; it's common sense as an individual that if someone is leaping down your rhetorical throat, you should have some sense of their perspective or be able to do the same. For the CCP, by contrast, as a party in power, it should expect criticism and accept it from whatever quarter.

Anyway, Joel, I was coming back to this comment to agree with you and apologize for bloviating, but dear Stinky seems to have beat me to the punch with his own pontifications. In any case, that connection between anonymity and expression of nationalism he mentioned may in fact be worth considering...

Thanks for the original post and keeping your eyes on the whole Green Dam thing and its subsequent permutations.

The internet needs to be and stay as free as possible. There are plenty of pppressive groups, people and regimes outthere and it would be foolish to think that some day they will die out.

If you need to register your name (and I am sure that includes a set IP or some other mean to identify your computer nomatter what you do) then noone will ever be safe,, and I am not thinking China here. China's net police is nothing compared to much worse governments in Asia and Africa as well as religious fundamentalist regiemes not to mention a hellhole like North Korea where less than 1 percent of the population is even allowed to use the net (ie the internet,, not the ridiculously intraweb they run).

I support China's netpolicies in many ways (since most of them at least are based on the law) apart from the restrictions on free speech. But there is no way that these new possible restrictions in the long run benefits the users, the people, the country or even the CCP itself.

Professor Cathcart,

You: "This December's China Quarterly (assuming you are familiar with that periodical) carries one of my articles on Sino-Japanese relations, a piece which anonymous peer reviewers...criticized me for a kind of axiomatic criticism of all CCP actions. And Danwei has previously linked to a couple of other posts of mine in which I'm critical of censorship and Hu Jintao's 1984-style rigidity, which you also probably missed. But I appreciate your calling me a lackey of Zhongyang, really! My little missive above merely reflects personal view based on about eight months of blogging and paying attention to such things as your own questionable comments, and my words shouldn't be interpreted as any kind of prescription for Chinese policy. It's a little something called a caveat, something to think about, not some indication I've been assimilated by the CCP borg."

Stinky: Me thinks, Professor Cathcart, thou dost protest too much. Don't get your panties in a twist. And for Christ’s sake, stop with the constant whining (i.e., both about the coarseness of online discourse and me). It’s not very professorial, if you ask me. Same goes for all the talk (here and elsewhere) about your published essays. You and I both know that for every substantial essay published in China Quarterly (yes, I’m familiar with the journal), there are at least nine that are completely forgettable (most submitted by anxious postgraduates and junior faculty desperate for tenure). The same goes for AAS panels, finished dissertations, and published manuscripts.

More from Stinky: You'll get no apology for coarseness from me, Professor Cathcart. Your comment lamenting the quality of discourse on the Global Times’ forums and calling for real name registration is an embarrassment and you SHOULD be ashamed. Not only would real name registration NOT prevent Chinese nationalists from openly wishing that the U.S. had dropped more atomic weapons on Japan, it would likely also discourage Chinese internet users from participating in the very kind of discourse you profess to want more of. Specifically, it would deter Chinese from engaging in politically risky speech. Such speech is already rare here in China, but you would embrace a policy that would make it even rarer. It's one thing to wish that everyone shared your commitment to high-minded discourse; it's quite another to endorse a policy that puts you front and center to win this year's "Friend of China" award. (Perhaps you also support the CCP’s recent decision to prevent private citizens from registering new internet domains?) No congrats from me, Professor. Anyone who makes an argument in favor of a policy (i.e., real name registration) that would lead to less freedom of expression in China gets a big fat "F*** You!" from me. I don't care how coarse and disappointing the discourse gets over at the Global Times. Neither do I care what your anonymous peer reviewers said about your most recent essay in China Quarterly. Spare me the list of your accomplishments. And keep your c.v. to yourself.

You: "Huanqiu readers...aren't uniformly the Luddites you suggest they are..."

Stinky: I never said that Huanqiu readers/commenters were Luddites. Rather, I suggested that looking for informed discourse among the comment threads over at Huanqiu’s website is a bit like looking for love in a brothel. Only a very sad sack would do either.

Stinky out.

Nice job, Stinky. "Keep your C.V. to yourself" -- that's pretty good! I assume, then, that you don't want to read my latest essay, "North Korean Hip-Hop? Reflections on Musical Diplomacy in the DPRK," published last week in Acta Koreana in Seoul? :) I really highly recommend it, I think it's going to change the way we think about cultural diplomacy and the DPRK, man!

Since I now learn that China Quarterly is a rag, Huanqiu Shibao is a brothel, and Danwei is fully of whining poseurs, is there anything of substance you would recommend I read (besides Rebecca MacKinnon's work) on the original subject at hand? It would be nice to learn something here.

Thanks for the critiques, anyway. You're a wild man/excellent representative of stinky tofu everywhere.

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