China will ban from March 1 Internet accounts that impersonate people or organisations, and enforce the requirement that people use real names when registering accounts online, its Internet watchdog said on Wednesday.
China has repeatedly made attempts to require Internet users to register for online accounts using their real names, although with mixed success.
The ban on impersonations includes accounts that purport to be government bodies, such as China’s anti-corruption agency and news organisations like the People’s Daily state newspaper, as well as accounts that impersonate foreign leaders, such as U.S. President Barack Obama and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) said on its website.
Many users of social media create parody accounts of prominent figures and institutions to poke fun at them.
The new regulations are part of efforts to impose real-name registration requirements on Internet users and halt the spread of rumours online, CAC said.
The measure reflects China’s tightening control of the Internet, which has accelerated since President Xi Jinping took power in early 2013.
Internet companies will have the responsibility to enforce the rules, said the CAC. Among these are Tencent Holdings Ltd, which runs hugely popular instant messaging services WeChat and QQ, and microblog operator Weibo Corp, as well as several online forums.
Weibo strongly supports adoption of the regulations and will strengthen its management efforts, a spokesman said by e-mail. In the past month, Weibo has removed 293 accounts with “harmful names”, including those which are political, pornographic and related to public security, he said.
Tencent declined immediate comment.
China operates one of the world’s most sophisticated online censorship mechanisms, known as the Great Firewall. Censors keep a tight grip on what can be published online, particularly content seen as potentially undermining the ruling Communist Party.
On Tuesday, the CAC accused NetEase Inc, a U.S.-listed Chinese web portal, of spreading rumours and pornography. And last month, 133 WeChat accounts were shut down for “distorting history”, state media reported.