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Chinese social networks require Real Names

In a post on the SIG-III blog, Aaron Bowen writes about his attempt at creating a profile on the Chinese social networking site, Zhanzuo. He was thwarted since he couldn’t type his name in characters that aren’t Chinese. More to the point, he was thwarted because he couldn’t be in compliance with the rule that says he must provide his ‘Real Name’. Tricky, eh?

But before the name verification authorities deleted my profile, I did try to add a little blurb about myself and the SIG-III blog, partly on the off chance that someone would see it before my profile disappeared, and partly just to see if I could do it. What happened was interesting. My attempts to post to the “about me” section were blocked, with (in Google translation) a rather Orwellian message:

your current state is: not yet audited by administrators, unable to use this function.

Block of the network to promote the real-name system, in order to pass audit, you must:

1. Upload your photos as a true portrait

2. Complete the true information (including name, department, etc)

Within 24 hours administrators will examine your images and information vetted through you can freely enjoy the fun of the block!

He was initially pointed to the site by a post by Dan Wei – complete with (translated) mp3 of his interviews with some student “brand ambassadors” of this site. He refers to as “one of several sites contending for the role of ‘China’s Facebook’.”

The real name system in China refers to top down policies of requiring web users to provide their real name and some other personal identifiers to register and use certain sites and services, particularly BBS and blogs. It is generally viewed unfavorably as a big-brotherish crackdown on online free-speech.

Social networking sites, given that their function is to search and connect with friends and contacts, by their very nature require one to register their real name. Chinese netizens nontheless lump this together with the real name system, and all the negative contexts associated with it.

This is especially a challenge for campus SNSs like Zhanzuo, since China’s campuses are likely to be the place where one can find the most resistence to real name systems.

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