China regulator looks to tighten grip on microblogs

Reuters News

10/13/2011 1:14:02 PM - Reuters News

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese Internet regulator on Thursday called for stricter policing of the nation's microblogs while also encouraging officials to use them to engage with citizens, state news agency Xinhua reported.

A meeting attended by Communist Party members, representatives from several companies, public security agencies and held by the State Internet Information Office, was another signal that China wants tighter control of the Twitter-like microblogs that more than 200 million Chinese use.

"The meeting noted that due to the rapid development of microblogs, we must strengthen management to address problems arising as microblogs develop," the official Xinhua news agency report said.

China's microbloggers showed their potency in a string of recent official scandals, particularly an online uproar in the wake of a high-speed bullet train crash in July that killed 40 people. Microbloggers led the charge in challenging rail officials' evasive accounts of the disaster.

Chinese state media have demanded that Internet companies, regulators and police do more to cleanse websites of "toxic rumors.

China currently heavily filters the Internet, and blocks popular foreign sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

The Xinhau report said people who spread "fabricated rumors," pornography, and who "pollute the Internet environment," must be investigated according to the law.

"Make microblogs a new platform that is positive and healthy and for expressing oneself in a civilized and rational way," it said, adding that influential bloggers should develop a stronger "sense of social responsibility."

The State Internet Information Office is a newly formed agency intended to strengthen government regulation of Internet content, which is also monitored by several other, sometimes rival agencies.

The meeting was presided over by Wang Chen, director of the State Council Information Office, the government's propaganda and information arm.

Sina and other Chinese microblog operators already deploy technicians and software to monitor content, and block and remove comment deemed unacceptable, especially about protests, official scandals and party leaders.

(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Matthew Jones)