China’s most popular social media platforms on Tuesday announced that “self-media” accounts with more than 500,000 followers will be asked to display real-name information. Self-media includes news and information not necessarily approved by the government, a genre of online content regulators have cracked down on in recent years to “purify” China’s cyberspace. Messaging app WeChat, microblogging platform Weibo, and Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, all published separate statements announcing the new requirement.
The move is aimed at curbing the spread of false information and promoting public health by requiring that all public accounts display their real names and photos. It also requires that the source, shooting time, and location of pictures and videos be marked, according to a statement released by Weibo.
It has yet to be made clear when the change will come into effect, but Weibo said it would contact affected users individually to explain the changes and ask for their consent. It said it would also work with experts to create a database of verified information and publish it on its website to help identify fake accounts.
Weibo, Sina Weibo, and Douyin have all vowed to punish accounts that violate the new rules severely, the Global Times reported. “All’self-media’ that produce and publish rumors speculate on current events, or disseminate illegal and harmful information that have a matrix impact simultaneously through a variety of platforms will be shut down, blocklisted from the platform, and reported to the cyberspace department,” the statement read.
In the case of financial self-media, regulators will look into accounts that have repeatedly released financial news illegally, distorted economic policy interpretation, and badmouthed financial markets, the Global Times said. They will also look at accounts that have disrupted network communications.
For some WeChat influencers, fabricating sensationalist rumors can be lucrative. In 2015, one founder of a popular account focused on international news, Here in the UK (Yingguo Na Xie Shi Er), told the New Rank website that he earned more than 10,000 yuan ($1,583) per post by using the platform’s pay-per-click advertising feature.
However, the proliferation of false information is a severe threat to the health and well-being of citizens, according to a report by the Center for Communication Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. It found that some 3.6 million people in China are using social media to get their news and that over half of them chose WeChat as their primary source of information.
It is a problem that the rapid growth of the self-media industry could worsen. Its popularity reflects the growing desire in China for more personalized and trustworthy news than what state-owned outlets can offer, and it has become a powerful tool for political propaganda. Its existence also indicates that quality journalism in China faces a challenge in an era of “self-media.” Fang Kecheng, a former journalist at Southern Weekend and a Ph.D. candidate at Annenberg, says that while some self-media accounts provide valuable insights on current affairs, others have exploited their audience for clout and money.