Chinese social media landscapes are undergoing a dynamic shift as major platforms like Weibo, WeChat, Douyin, Zhihu, Xiaohongshu, and Kuaishou enforce new regulations demanding popular users to disclose their legal identities. This mandate by China, targeting verified influencers with substantial followings, has sparked a wave of reactions within the influencer community, with some contemplating departure while others strategies to maintain anonymity.
The uproar began when Weibo hinted at plans to compel verified influencers, known as “Big Vs,” to display their legal names on public profiles. Influencers like Tu Pao Ding, a renowned book blogger, expressed their concerns and eventually departed from Weibo upon confirmation of the new rule. Others, such as science blogger Ming Yu Zhui Ran and rapper Kindergarten Killer, have taken measures like reducing followers or deleting their accounts to safeguard their anonymity.
Impact on Privacy and Expression
Criticism from Chinese social media users has centred on potential privacy breaches, fears of enabling harassment and worries regarding the narrowing spectrum of voices online. For influencers like Cathy Zhang, who has relied on a pseudonym to shield against online abuse, the regulation poses a threat, prompting strategic follower sweep outs to maintain the blanket of privacy.
Strategies to Evade the Rule
Influencers are employing various tactics to sidestep the rule’s impact. Some, like Tianjin Stock King and Ken, have deliberately reduced their followers through purges or software that targets inactive accounts. An influencer agency executive highlighted concerns about financial losses and diminished visibility for influencers, hinting at a cautious silence among many awaiting enforcement details.
Communication studies professor Min Jiang emphasised how this real-name rule might limit the influence of opinion leaders, stifling their ability to navigate censorship creatively. Former Weibo censor Eric Liu pointed to governmental directives as a likely impetus for these policy changes. He suggested the rule aims to silence outspoken influencers by threatening to expose their identities, leading to increased surveillance and potential risks for critical voices.
Opinion and Global Implications
Implementing a similar policy in India or elsewhere could have diverse ramifications. On one hand, it might streamline accountability and curb online abuse. Yet, it could also curb freedom of expression and stifle dissenting voices, mirroring the challenges seen in China.
Striking a balance between these aspects while ensuring transparency and safety on social media platforms would be crucial. Such a policy should be cautiously evaluated to prevent unintended consequences and respect individuals’ rights to anonymity where necessary.
The shift towards mandating real-name disclosure on major Chinese social media platforms has sparked concerns about privacy, expression, and the potential stifling of diverse opinions online. Influencers are strategising to navigate these changes, highlighting the challenges and uncertainties posed by this new rule.