Real name registration has come and gone. The article Tricia and I penned for Wired noted some of the dangers behind the requirements to register one’s real name (it’s quite rigorous – you have to include your identification card):
In a move to exert greater control on citizen speech online, the government is requiring that Sina Weibo and China’s other microblogs register the real names and identification cards of users in several cities. Those who do not register this week in many major cities like Beijing will not be allowed to share or forward posts; after a period of testing, the policy will go into effect nationwide.
Indeed, many of our fears came true. In a major crackdown a few weeks ago, the Chinese government flexed its muscles by shutting down comments posts. Then they shut down web sites and conducted a number of arrests. It’s quite clear the government wanted to send a signal in no uncertain terms that it’s serious about quelling internet commentary. (Whether or not that’s ultimately possible is another story.)
Today, the word “real name registration” (实名制) is blocked. In its place is at least one code word, “315”, which is short for March 15, the day real name registration kicked in across microblogs, as well as a few code words that are puns off of the original Chinese.
One friend told me that real name registration has turned Sina Weibo into LinkedIn, meaning it’s solely for professional purposes. I’m already seeing evidence that users are toning down their language and saving more critical commentary for other channels. In China, you have to learn to read between the silent moments, and the silence here is deafening..
One month later, I thought I would share some of the memes I found online as users vented their fears of the coming “shimingzhi”–real name registration–a few weeks before it officially kicked in. The most common image? That of being silenced by a face mask, an already loaded image in a post-SARS China. But you can talk behind a face mask, and I have no doubt netizens will find a way to keep the conversation going.