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Real name angst
(Shanghai Star)
Updated: 2005-08-14 09:57

The controversial system that requires users¡¯ to use their real names when posting on the Internet, recently proposed in South Korea, was first proposed in China three years ago.

The system would require that many users register their real names when posting information on websites. Sixty-five colleges already require their BBS users to register by name in China.

A heated discussion is going on in a special column of Sina.com, one of the largest portal websites in China.

Three years before South Korea began to promote the real-name system, Chinese experts had already proposed a similar system. In a TV talk show on Guangzhou TV on April 29, 2002, Li Xiguang, head of the Centre for International Communications Studies at Tsinghua University, said that ¡ª as in the traditional media ¡ª copyrights and intellectual property should be well-protected on the Internet, and people on the Internet should take legal responsibility for their words or activities. He suggested that the government should set up regulations to prohibit netizens from posting articles anonymously on the Internet.

His words provoked strong opposition from netizens and experts, such as Du Gangjian from the National School of Administration, Yu Guoming from Renmin University of China, Jiao Guobiao from Peking University.

On June 12, 2003, Li wrote to The Chinese Journalist to say the public had misunderstood his words.

His suggestions were supposed to apply to all media, not just the Internet. He also said in the letter that he had no interest in the Internet real-name system.

Two years after Li¡¯s comments, on July 20, 2005, Tencent Company, one of the largest real-time chat software and service providers, announced that in order to maintain a clean cyberspace, all the discussion group administrators of its chat software, QQ, should register with their real names and ID card number in Shenzhen. Other cities will soon follow suit. Though Tencent told the Beijing Evening News on July 26 that common users should not worry about the prospect of real name registration, the public have signalled their worries.

On the move

In March of this year, the Ministry of Education released No.17 File to announce that BBS and websites of all universities and colleges should strictly apply the real-name registration system. In the Webmasters Summer Camp opened on July 27 at Shanghai Jiaotong University, this issue was discussed by the participants. Webmasters from 65 universities announced that they had already adopted real-name registration.

Anyone who wants to log on to the BBS or Intranet of these universities has to register with his real name, gender, birth date, debarment, major and student number.

At the beginning of this year, a similar move was launched by the Ministry of Information Industry. All the non-profit Internet content providers must register with the real names of their top executives, ID card numbers, telephone numbers, addresses and e-mail addresses.

According to Hu, the person in charge of PR and media in the Shanghai Communications Administration, more than 90 per cent of local non-profit Internet content providers have registered. The deadline for the registration has not been decided yet, but once it¡¯s fixed, providers who do not register will be shut down.

¡°We think this method can provide a cleaner cyber environment,¡± Hu said. He added that this move has nothing to do with adopting the real-name system for all Internet users.

¡°The real-name system is still under discussion. The impact of the system will be profound, so it should be reviewed and discussed very carefully. But once the Ministry of Information Industry decides to apply it, we¡¯ll carry it out,¡± he said.

Strong opposition

Opposition to the real-name system has been continuous, even though the system has not been put into practice yet. Chen Tong, the vice CEO and chief editor of Sina.com said in Sina¡¯s special column for discussing the real-name system that he opposed the system strongly. He said that the greatest attraction of the Internet was that people can make speeches anonymously in cyberspace. Defamation behaviour could be prohibited by other technological means than the real-name system.

Yu Hai, a sociologist from Fudan University, said he thought the real-name system was meaningless because it would do nothing to prevent cyber crimes. ¡°In real life, people are required to use their real names and identities most often. But there are still many crimes. I don¡¯t think that on the Internet, a real-name system could control cyber crime,¡± he said. He also added that it would restrict freedom of speech and would make people feel insecure. He thought the most interesting aspect of the Internet was the fact netizens communicate freely without concern for their real identities. Netizens can discuss topics they are afraid to discuss when their real identities are be known.

Yu said that if all websites, BBS and chat software adopted the real-name system, it would be a great blow to netizens¡¯ enthusiasm for communication. ¡°The negative influence of the real-name system would be too great,¡± he said. He also pointed out that even if the real-name system is implemented, the cost of censoring speeches would be surprisingly high.

Zhao Shilin, author of ¡°On Internet Communication¡± and teacher at the School of Film Arts and Technology at Shanghai University said the possibility of applying the real-name system to all Internet BBS, websites and chat software was questionable. He said that compared with traditional media, the Internet provided a relatively free space for Chinese netizens to speak out about their own ideas. The real-name system would jeopardize the public¡¯s most valuable channel for expressing their ideas.

¡°For example, some students on campus worry about expressing their ideas with their real identities because they think they will be treated unfairly if their words annoy some authorities.

¡°If the real-name system is applied in all universities, I think fewer and fewer students will be prepared to express their own ideas on the university intranet or BBS. It¡¯s not good for administration officers in the universities either, because they lose an effective way of learning about student responses and thoughts,¡± he said.

The future of the real-name system is still in question, both in South Korea and China. The survey on Sina.com reveals certain concerns among the public ¡ª of 6,424 (until August 2) netizens, 5,009 (80.25 per cent) opposed introducing the real-name system in China, while 1,233 (19.75) support it. In the July 28 issue of the Shanghai Morning Post, in an interview with Zhang Ping, deputy editor of The Bund, Zhang challenged the possibility of applying the real-name system. ¡°From ancient times to today, anyone has been allowed to published their works under pseudonyms. The relevant copyright law in China also claims that the right to use pseudonyms is protected. Balzac, Stendhal, Lu Xun and Jin Yong, all these are pseudonyms. If we publish their works on the Internet, must we change their names into Honore de Balzac, Marie-Henri Beyle, Zhou Shuren or Zha Liangyong?¡± he said.

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