Chinese authorities in the northern city of Xi’an have ordered internet service providers to submit files to police on anyone with more than 30,000 social media followers, RFA has learned.
Service providers have until Aug. 15 to comply with the new rules, according to a directive issued by the Xi’an municipal branch of China’s powerful Cyberspace Agency.
“Any organization or individual engaged in the running of websites, forums or chat services must keep a file on any account holder with more than 30,000 followers, including their place of registration, the place where they live,” the directive, a copy of which was obtained by RFA, said.
Files must also be prepared on individuals residing temporarily within Xi’an city limits, it said. The files must then be made available to the authorities.
“Individuals or work units failing to do this will be subjected to warnings, ‘chats’ [with police], or administrative punishments,” the directive warned.
Internet service providers could also face being shut down by the authorities temporarily or permanently, if they do not comply, it said.
It said service providers that allow “fake news” to circulate, including “additional reporting,” or news that is lacking in factual truth, balance or that doesn’t comply with regulations, will be dealt with according to law.
Xi’an-based journalist and political commentator Ma Xiaoming said the ruling Chinese Communist Party wants to ensure that only it has a platform.
“It seems that the last vestiges of freedom of speech are now being tightly controlled,” Ma said. “This is a form of suppression of free speech.”
The move comes after China’s media regulator last week issued takedown notices last week to two popular multimedia websites targeting young people, AcFun and bilibili.
Authorities removed a large array of overseas TV shows and video content amid an ongoing crackdown on foreign content, the State Administration for Print, Publications, Radio, Film and Television, Print and Publications (SAPPRFT) said in a statement on its official website.
“These were sites for young people, which started out with mostly cartoons and anime, and later expanded to all kinds of content,” a journalist who asked to remain anonymous told RFA.
“A lot of the video has now been taken down, or, if it is still on the site, you can’t watch it,” she said. “It was phenomenally popular, and then the on-screen comment function became hugely popular across the country.”
“These two websites were the first to offer the on-screen, real-time comment function.”
A website manager surnamed Liu said the official reason for the takedown was copyright violation, but that the desire to extend government censorship among this age group was likely the real reason behind the move.
“These were two of the most popular websites among young people born in the 1990s, and I am thinking that there may be quite a lot of young nationalists who may be bewailing their loss,” Liu said.
“A lot of these nationalistic youth love to watch Japanese anime and Thai soap operas and romantic movies,” he said.
“But they are applying the same standards to online content as they do to regular TV and film now, and that means targeting foreign content which has never been through an official censorship process.”
He said President Xi Jinping takes a dim view of any content that doesn’t bear the ideological stamp of the official propaganda machine.
“Xi is a bit of a Maoist-leftist himself … so the propaganda machine has to be very leftist, too,” he said. “They’re afraid of Xi because of his constant ‘clean-up’ campaigns and … they are desperate to show their loyalty.”
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA’s Mandarin Service, and by Sing Man for the Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.