Users of instant messaging tools, including WeChat, must now register for the services with their real names in the latest bid by China's cyber watchdog to clean up the online environment and rein in rumormongers.
The State Internet Information Office announced the move on Thursday, adding that potential users of WeChat, a popular instant messaging and voice application designed by Chinese tech giant Tencent, will only receive an account after their real identities are verified.
Users can still use their online nicknames when using instant messaging tools, according to the new rule. The office stressed that the privacy of users can be protected when registering their real names.
The rule, which has been effective since Thursday, has been applauded by Internet uses and experts.
Shi Shusi, a popular micro-blogger and WeChat user, praised the real-name registration, saying it is necessary to give true identities when opening a bank account or shopping online.
Li Yuxiao, director of the Institute of Internet Governance and Law under Beijing University of Posts and Telecommnunications, agreed with Shi, but said the real-name system is no cure-all for the online environment.
"We are troubled with some rumors on instant messaging tools, especially on WeChat where most friends believe what they see and the impact of the rumors is sometimes bigger than other platforms, such as micro blogs," Li said.
The real-name system is a must, he added, but cleaning up cyberspace and reducing misinformation also requires the government and self-discipline from users.
According to the new rule, online service providers should ask users to supply real identities if they want online services on mobile phones. The mandate is in line with the Internet information protection regulation made by the top legislature's standing committee.
Previous users who were not required to provide authentic information will be encouraged to join the real-name systems, but the watchdog said the specific method for doing so would depend on the application producers and operators.
Guo Kaitian, vice-president of Tencent, welcomed the real-name system. He said his team spends too much time identifying and removing fake information and reports from users.
"Paying and taking taxis via our application will become easier and quicker for users who provide real identities," Guo said. "For those reporting alleged rumors, we'll give a reply and solution within seven days."
It is also hoped the real-name system deter those who spread illegal information on instant messaging tools, including the promotion of violence, terrorism and pornography.
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