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China Issues Strict New Rules for Group Chats
Published on: 2017-09-12
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China has issued new rules to tighten control over group chats ahead of the Party Congress in October, in what appears to be another online crackdown.

The two new sets of regulations were issued by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) last week and are set to go into effect on October 8, 2017, just before the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party convenes in Beijing.

The rules are intended to "better develop China’s online environment, protect the legal rights of Chinese netizens and online organizations, and safeguard national security and the public interest."

Here's a look at what some of the new rules entail for users and service providers.

1. Admins should take full responsibility for group chats.

Under the new rules, group owners (admins) are encouraged take full responsibility over members and chat discussions. The rules apply to messaging apps such as Tencent's WeChat and QQ, Alibaba's Alipay Chat, Baidu's Tieba, Sina's Weibo and other social media platforms.

More specifically, admins are told to manage the conduct of all group members and make sure information posted in groups abides by the law, user agreements and conventions.

“Whoever owns the group should be responsible, and whoever manages the group should be responsible,” the rules read.

. Service providers must step up their game in monitoring and managing content exchanged on their platforms.

Online group chat service providers (i.e. WeChat, or any platform that offers "group information exchanges") are encouraged to verify the identities of users in all groups, clarify individual users' responsibilities, manage online information and keep group chat logs stored for no less than six months.

CAC noted that several chat platforms have "failed to fulfill their duties" by allowing obscenity, violence and fraud to spread in group chats.

3. Chat platforms should build new credit rating and blacklist systems.

CAC also suggested messaging apps set up a credibility rating and blacklist system, similar to the one currently in place for Alipay. Group chat services will be provided in accordance with their credit ratings, and supervision by the public is also encouraged to help better supervise the group chats.

4. Users who break the rules will face punishment.

Rule breakers will be subject to punishment that could include a lower credit score and suspension or revocation of chat management rights. They will also be put on a blacklist and reported to the relevant government departments, who will keep the reports on file.

Group chats that release illegal information (i.e. information that is vulgar, uncivilized, pornographic, terrorism-related, false, rumor-spreading or violent in nature) will be suspended or shut down, and the group founder will be subject to all punishments listed above.

An Anhui man was put in administrative detention for five days last week after using abusive language against police in a WeChat group.

5. Service providers of public accounts should release and regulate their content.

It's not just group chats that are seeing stricter rules, either. The second regulations also target public accounts on social media platforms like Sina Weibo, Zhihu (a Q&A site similar to Quora) and livestreaming sites Inke and Yizhibo. Those regulations (rather vaguely) recommend that these service providers release their information to the public.

This regulation encourages better regulation of public information released by private enterprises, authorized personal account, legally registered organizations and governmental departments.

The providers are are also told to improve their content management systems, and the providers' responsibilties must be clarified.

6. Providers should protect user privacy.

Messaging app and social media providers must also take steps to protect users' privacy and avoid leaking personal information, as well as prove professional and technical capabilties that conforms to the scale of their service. If safety flaws or loopholes are discovered, the platforms must fix them in a timely manner in order to avoid privacy risks.

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