You think terms of service are tricky? Check out this Chinese ‘code of conduct’

The Chinese equivalent of Twitter has just issued a “code of conduct” for its users in an attempt to put a stop to political criticism, rumors, and the spread of social unrest.

Weibo.com, an online property run by Sina Corp, is a microblogging platform not unlike Twitter. It allows information — well, some information — to spread rapidly through brief messages and images.

And like Twitter, it’s peppered with the same mundanity, the same inspirational cliches, the same celebrity-related chatter. But it also brings its fair share of political and social commentary, not unlike the Arab Spring and Occupy movements’ presence on Twitter.

Now, however, users will be expected to keep their missives squeaky clean by the government’s standards and to not post about politically sensitive topics, up to and including the very names of disgraced Party members or any criticism of the country’s constitution.

Weibo users’ conduct will be enforced with a points system (yep, they just gamified censorship) wherein you lose points for posting rumors or criticisms and earn points for, say, verifying your own identity. If you get down to zero points, your Weibo account gets terminated.

The timing of this decision is interesting. The Communist Party in China will be holding its 18th Congress in the fall; congresses are held about once every five years. The 18th Congress is set to bring about a huge leadership change, and so far, it’s going far from smoothly. The road to this fall’s political shift has been paved with oustings, rumors, infighting, political persecution, and all manner of drama. There have even been speculations that the Congress may be postponed this year.

Add a microblogging service to all that, and you have what some would consider to be a perfect storm for social media and social change. But not in the PRC, and not on Weibo or any other Sina property.

Unfortunately, this is just the continuation of a longstanding trend. Late last year, Sina execs pledged their support to government censorship programs.

And in early 2011, Weibo began blocking messages about the Arab Spring uprisings. A search for “Egypt” on the service would return a message stating, “According to relevant laws, regulations and policies, the search results are not shown.”

The new code of conduct was announced earlier this month and went into effect today.


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