China removes anonymity of bloggers’ accounts with more than 500,000 followers

BEIJING (Reuters) – 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, a controversial measure that has prompted concerns over doxxing and privacy among some users.

“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.

Doxxing is the public release of sensitive information identifying an individual or organisation, like a home address or phone number.

Messaging and payment app WeChat, microblogging platform Weibo, Douyin, China’s version of Tik Tok, search engine giant Baidu, social e-commerce app Xiaohongshu, video sharing website Bilibili, among others, published separate statements on Tuesday.

Rumours of the new policy had prompted lively debate among users.

Some, like former state media editor Hu Xijin, have defended the measure as necessary in order to force influential accounts to use more responsible speech.

Others, however, have expressed concerns that the measure would make doxxing easier and platforms would further remove online users’ anonymity in the future.

Platforms have already moved to assuage users’ concerns. Weibo CEO Wang Gaofei said two weeks ago that the policy would not be expanded to include accounts with follower counts below 500,000.

Bytedance’s Douyin said on Tuesday that it would not ask for anything besides real names and that it would only allow verified accounts to view such information, adding that accounts deemed “risky” or “abnornal” would be prevented from seeing others’ real names.

The new measures will remove the anonymity of thousands of influencers on social media platforms that are used daily by hundreds of millions of Chinese.

Several of the platforms said that accounts with over 1 million followers would be affected first and those that do not comply would face restrictions in their online traffic and income as a consequence.

(Reporting by Eduardo Baptista, editing by Ed Osmond and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)