The Internet witnessed another round of censorship when China enforced new curbs on instant messaging service providers. Any move by Beijing in the field of technology creates ripples as it is the world’s biggest mobile market. It has again raised a question mark on China’s credibility about freedom of expression.
On Thursday, China imposed new regulations on instant messaging service providers and accounts that can send out mass messages to their followers, often used by media and companies. These require public accounts wishing to publish or reprint political news to seek prior approval. The curbs will affect messaging apps such as Tencent’s WeChat, which has almost 400 million users. Other instant messaging tools include Tencent’s QQ, Alibaba Group Holding Laiwang app, NetEase Inc’s Yixin and Xiaomi Inc’s Miliao which are popular as they allow users to share voice messages, pictures, group chat, video and text.
Public, or official, accounts can send out single messages to a large number of followers than individual users and are commonly used by media organisations and companies. Accounts that have not been approved by the instant messaging service provider are forbidden from publishing or reprinting political news, the official Xinhua news agency said, adding service providers must verify and publicly mark accounts that can publish or reprint political news. Beijing argues that the curbs were introduced to safeguard national interest. “Instant messaging services have been used by some people to spread content related to violence, terrorism, pornography and fraud,” said Xinhua, adding the new rules would “enhance the flow of content people really need”.
China has one of the world’s most extensive and sophisticated systems of Internet censorship and monitoring. However, observers around the world see it another step to control information flow in the country. The tussle between the government and backers of free information flow is not new. Governments around the globe want to filter information as per their wish. But history has proved that it is not easy to restrict information and technology. Technology always finds a way to steer through restrictive policies through news innovations.
Lawmakers should keep in mind that innovations in technology work in common man’s favour. Technology has eliminated hurdles of money, distance and time. Now a person can get information without spending too much and without travelling distances. Just because some people misuse a platform, it does not mean other users should be barred from using technology. Instant messaging services have helped users, especially with limited income, save money. Before the advent of these apps, it was unthinkable for limited-income people away to earn livelihood to communicate with family or friends. These apps have enabled them to communicate without making international calls•