China doxxes the profiles of popular ‘self-media’ accounts

This decision has sparked controversy and raised worries regarding doxxing and privacy issues among certain users who fear that China’s control over the internet is tightening.

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China’s major social media platforms have declared that they will require ‘self-media’ accounts boasting more than 500,000 followers to disclose their real-name information.

‘Self-media’ encompasses news and information that may not align with government approval, a category of online content regulators have been clamping down on to ‘clean up’ China’s online environment. Doxxing involves the public release of sensitive details, such as a person’s or organisation’s home address or phone number.

The new regulations will strip away the anonymity of numerous social media influencers, who command massive followings on platforms extensively used by hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens. Some of these platforms have indicated that accounts with over 1 million followers will be the first to be affected.

Nonetheless, platforms have moved to alleviate user concerns. For instance, Weibo’s CEO, Wang Gaofei, said two weeks ago that the policy would not be extended to encompass accounts with follower counts below 500,000 and even tested the policy on his account. Douyin, operated by TikTok parent company Bytedance, announced that it would only request real names and that verified accounts would be the only ones allowed to access this information. They also mentioned that accounts deemed ‘risky’ or ‘abnormal’ would be restricted from viewing others’ real names.

Why does it matter?

While some users have expressed support for the measure, others have voiced apprehensions that it could facilitate doxxing and that online platforms might gradually erode user anonymity. This development is part of a broader trend in China, reflecting an intensified effort to exert control over the internet and social media. Recent cases have included the removal of 80 crypto influencer accounts as well as media accounts spreading what they deem to be fake news.