The Chinese Communist Party is expanding its anti-free speech policies after requiring bloggers and other online users to have credentials to publish content related to political issues.
The move ordered by the Cyberspace Administration of China came in connection with the activity of political writer Ma Xiaolin, who frequently wrote about political, military, and economic-related topics on a Chinese microblogging site, according to the Associated Press.
“As an international affairs researcher and a columnist, it looks like I can only go the route of entertainment, food, and beverage now,” Ma wrote a few weeks ago.
Wang Gao Fei, chief executive of microblogging website Weibo, argued that political commentary was allowed, but posting original breaking news, is only possible through special permission.
Weibo’s censorship department must tread a fine line between appeasing government censors and encouraging users to keep posting to its site.
On the networking platform, the CCP monitors content, dictating what can and cannot be published.
“Those orders are usually clear, direct and urgent, like whose accounts need removing and which posts need to be deleted,” a former employee of the microblogging site told the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in 2016.
The political writer often posts on Middle East issues and is one of the few influential people working within the heavily censored website’s constraints.
According to the blogger, his space to speak is shrinking further after recent policy changes were implemented and the country’s censoring agencies implemented a cleanup.
According to AP, starting next week, the Cyberspace Administration of China will make it a requirement for bloggers and influencers to have a credential approved by the CCP before they can publish on various topics. Although permits have been required since 2017 to write about political and military affairs, the policy has yet to become widespread.
According to Titus Chen, an expert on China’s social media policy at National Sun Yat-Sen University in Taiwan, “The regulators want to control the entire procedure of information production.”
The general secretary of the CCP, Xi Jinping, has called for increasingly strict regulations under the concept of “digital sovereignty” and, with the new credentials, publications with original content, including those by people like Ma, even though he does not openly challenge the CCP.
The policy revision is expected to “standardize and steer public accounts and information service platforms to be more self-aware in keeping the correct direction of public opinion,” according to a statement by the Cyberspace Administration.
The agency’s director, Zhuang Rongwen, said during a national conference on the importance of “strengthening order in online publishing” that the agency should “let our supervision and management grow teeth.”
On Feb. 4, the agency announced a month-long clean-up campaign targeting search engines, social media platforms, and browsers. It is not the first time that companies have carried out such campaigns to comply with government requirements.