Chinese Government Closes In On Anonymous Commenters

Hey, Commenters! Wouldn't that suck if you had to comment under your real names? The New York Times reports today that the Chinese government issued a confidential edict last month: commenters on China's news sites must use their real identities.

Bummer. What gives? China wants to encourage "greater 'social responsibility' and 'civility' among users," which is more or less a euphemism for squashing debate about their government. Apparently, chiefs of the news organizations—which are mostly state-run or at the very least, heavily regulated entities to begin with—leaked the news back in July, but later. scrubbed it from their sites. Why wouldn't the Chinese want word of this getting out?

Asked why the policy was pushed through unannounced, the chief editor of one site said, "The influence of public opinion on the Net is still too big."

Hey, go commenters! You have influence on things, something we understand. And want you to have! Here, you're even given the ability (or responsibility) to give and take away voice to those with or without Gold Stars (like that other, uh, republic). Interesting. So! Quick rundown of what China doesn't have on the internet anymore:

Government censors have closed thousands of sites in a continuing war on "vulgarity," closed liberal forums and blogs for spreading "harmful information," blocked access to YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, and cut off Internet service where serious unrest has erupted, notably in the Xinjiang region of the west after deadly clashes between ethnic Uighurs and Han in July. Increasingly, officials have defended the Web shutdowns on the grounds of national security.

Which basically leaves Dolphin Olympics and, I don't know, Hamster Dance. Not the worst of all possible Internets, but definitely not the best. Meanwhile, in America, you have the right to say FIRST!!11! without us ever knowing who you are, or why you're such a jackass. I'm sure someone would put into place regulatory measures like this to ensure that people like YouTube's commenters have to exist with us knowing exactly who the illiterate moron used what racial slur from where, but, alas, there are problems with this, both in theory and principle. But mostly, practice:

From a comparison of the most commented-on articles in July and August on a number of portals it was hard to determine whether the volume of posts had been affected so far. But both editors at two of the major portals affected said their sites had shown marked drop-offs.