The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) recently published a set of regulations set to be implemented on December 15 that will crack down on internet users for “liking” posts deemed “harmful” or “illegal.”
The guidelines, published on the CAC’s website, also demand all social media platforms – already heavily censored and regulated – develop a social credit system to rate users based on their opinions, likes, and other interactions with sites. The CAC is the online censorship arm of Chinese dictator Xi Jinping’s communist regime.
The new set of regulations following a tumultuous year in China in which protests against its repressive “zero-Covid” policies and the Communist Party, in general, have become a “daily” occurrence, according to the NGO Freedom House. The largest wave of protests yet erupted in major cities nationwide this weekend and continues unabated in urban areas such as Beijing.
The new rules state that government censors must track “likes” on public posts and users will be required to monitor and vet comments posted under their accounts, CNN reported, not just the content they produce themselves.
The regulations notably omitted any clear definition of what the CAC deems “harmful” or “illegal,” making it harder for users to predict what will lead them to legal trouble.
Other regulations include that platforms must develop a credit rating system for users commenting and liking posts. Users with a low credit rating will either be banned or prevented from creating a new account on the platform. Platforms will also be required to ensure that users are verified under their real identity before interacting with posts. Users will be forced to provide their personal ID, mobile phone, or social credit numbers to become verified.
China’s newest totalitarian measures come amid massive protests that have swept the nation partially prompted by the Communist regime’s “zero Covid” policies, which have been in place for approximately three years. The policies largely consist of using violent house arrest measures to lock down entire cities, sometimes affecting millions of people, at a time, denying them access to food and necessary medicine. Millions more have been hauled into unsanitary quarantine camps, allegedly to keep them from spreading Chinese coronavirus. Beijing admitted this month to its first three deaths caused by Chinese coronavirus since May, but has admitted to many more deaths caused by the lockdown policies in the last six months.
The lockdown measures also appear to have needlessly caused the deaths of between ten and 50 people in a fire at a locked-down residential complex in Urumqi, the capital of the oppressed Uyghur region of East Turkistan. Firefighters reportedly could not reach those inside the burning building due to barricades, resulting in the deaths of several individuals, including children. Communist officials deny that their lockdown measures led to the fire victim’s deaths.
Chinese citizens have responded by participating in mass protests across the nation’s largest cities, including Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Viral footage from Shanghai has shown demonstrators demanding that dictator Xi Jinping step down, shortly after being coronated into a third term.
Analysts say that China is increasing its efforts to crack down on dissent on social media.
“Liking something that is illegal shows that there is popular support for the issue being raised. Too many likes ‘can start a prairie fire,'” David Zweig, professor emeritus at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, told CNN.
“The threats to the [Chinese Communist Party] come from an ability to communicate across cities. The authorities must have been really spooked when so many people in so many cities came out at the same time,” Zweig added.
You can follow Ethan Letkeman on Twitter at @EthanLetkeman.