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People's Daily Online>>China Society

Anonymity just a paper shield

By He Bing (China Daily)

15:59, December 28, 2011

Hiding real identities online does not protect citizens from abuses of power and creates inequality among citizens

On Dec 16, the Beijing municipal government issued a new regulation on micro blog (weibo) management, which says that besides an e-mail address, any applicant for a weibo account must provide verifiable proof of their identity, which will be known to the service provider but not available to the public.

This, together with some fresh regulations introduced by other cities with a similar requirement, has been widely opposed by netizens and scholars alike. Many hold the opinion that such a move will make it easier for local governments to suppress criticism, thus violating freedom of speech. They claim that anonymity gives people a sense of security that allows them to express their true opinions about the work of government officials, while the requirement to provide evidence of their real identity will invoke caution and prevent differing voices being heard.

I do not agree with this view. While there have been some officials who have instigated arrests because a citizen said something on the Web they did not like, these officials have abused their power. But this has nothing to do with anonymity. In fact, several innocent people who have been thrown into prison by local officials were speaking behind an assumed identity on the Web, but the local officials still found them. Anonymity is only a paper shield against those with power. If there is risk in speaking out against officials then the risk is the same, whether anonymous or not.

On the contrary, it is ordinary citizens that are hurt most by anonymity. In our modern society, a micro-blogger with enough followers can express opinions and spread news, whether true or not, about government officials and ordinary citizens alike.

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