Sina, Tencent And Others Preparing For New Weibo Restrictions

  • Posted by
  • on October 12th, 2011

The South China Morning Post claims new restrictions are coming for microblogs in Net Tightens On Online Rumours. The article was published late last week and is now available outside its paywall.

According to this story:

New regulations targeting China’s robust social media are likely to be rolled out soon as part of the government’s ongoing campaign to curb the spread of rumour on the web, according to mainland new media scholars and industry insiders.

Song Jianwu, dean of the school of journalism and communication at China University of Political Science and Law, expected measures, which may include real-name registration for users of microblogs, to be issued soon.

The central government has recently passed new measures to manage [mainland microblogging site] Weibo,” Song said, adding that provinces and municipalities were also experimenting with new controls.

“For example, Beijing’s municipal government is likely to promulgate a real-name requirement system to regulate Weibo soon.”…

The controls may include issuing licenses to those microblogging sites that “can effectively eliminate rumours”, Song said. “Just like a supermarket, the food safety watchdog would hardly allow the operation of a supermarket if it regularly sold counterfeit or poisonous food.”

Leading mainland internet expert Professor Li Yonggang said the government might target bloggers with more than 50,000 or 100,000 followers for tighter control.

As tighter control usually results in a withering of business, microblog operators are taking the issue seriously. A Guangzhou-based new media industry insider said a handful of top executives from various mainland microblog operators held a low-profile meeting in Guangzhou last month and discussed how to respond to the expected regulations.

The source said Meng Bo, deputy editor-in-chief of Sina.com ($SINA) and project manager at Sina Weibo, was among those at the meeting.

It is highly likely that Sina and Tencent will get any licenses that may be granted.

There are at least three questions investors might want to consider.

First, while a licensing regime reduces the risk of a Weibo closure, will the new rules destroy the vitality of the service to the point that the long-term value is dramatically reduced?

Second, will those rules require significant increases in content and user management expenses?

Third, will the government require that microblog license holders be local companies with no foreign ownership, as Alibaba’s Jack Ma says the government mandated for the Alipay online payments license? Given the importance to the Party of ideological work and propaganda management, it is hard to see how online payments have more national security ramifications than does microblogging.

Note that Professor Li Yonggang (李永刚) quoted above is the author of interesting 2009 book 我们的防火墙::网络时代的表达与监管 Our Great Firewall: Expression and Governance in the Era of The Internet (that is the official translation of title).

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Full disclosure, at the time of posting I own shares of Yahoo.

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