China Removes Anonymity for Bloggers with Large Followings

The most popular social media platforms in China announced on Tuesday that so-called “self-media” accounts with over 500,000 followers will be asked to display the real names of the account holders, a move that has spurred concerns over privacy and possible doxing, Reuters reported.

A “self-media” account offers news and information that may not be approved by the Chinese government and is part of an online genre that content regulators have been targeting in recent years to “purify” Chinese cyberspace.

Messaging app WeChat, video-sharing platform Douyin, microblogging platform Weibo, video-sharing website Bilibili, and several other platforms separately published statements on Tuesday announcing the change.

The policy change has sparked a lively debate among Chinese social media users, with some, like former state media editor Hu Xijin, defending the measure as a necessary way to force influential social media accounts to be more responsible in what they post.

However, others expressed concern that the policy would make it easier to dox users and could lead to the platforms taking further steps to remove the anonymity of more online users in the future.

Wang Gaofei, the CEO of Weibo, two weeks ago tried to calm fears among users, assuring them that the policy would not expand to include any account with fewer than 500,000 followers.

Similarly, ByteDance, the maker of Douyin, said it would not ask for any information from high-follower users aside from their real names and would only permit verified accounts to view the real names. Douyin also said that any account deemed “abnormal” or “risky” would be unable to view the real names of the high-follower accounts.

The action will strip the anonymity from thousands of high-profile social media influencers whose content is viewed daily by hundreds of millions of Chinese.

Several platforms said those who do not comply with the new policy would have their online traffic and income restricted.