More Strange Things on Post-Real-Name Sina Weibo

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Things are getting weird.

As the realities of real-name regulation on Sina Weibo begin to set in, we thought we’d check in with an update to yesterday’s post about some of the very bizarre things that are happening. Specifically, we reported that some users on Weibo — including your humble correspondent — were finding themselves real-name registered automatically, despite having taken no action and submitting no data to Sina.

Today, that hasn’t changed — I can still post, and my account information is as blank as it’s always been — but two new oddities have pooped up onto our radar. First, it appears that users with unregistered accounts that have been blocked from posting can still make posts and retweet other posts as long as they use a smartphone or tablet client. Based on our tests, it does not appear that Sina is getting any ID information from these mobile clients, as users with unregistered SIM cards (purchased before the real-name requirement for phones) and unregistered weibo accounts were still able to post.

The other interesting change is that Sina has begun blocking searches for any terms related to the real name rules. “Real-name system,” “weibo real-name system,” “real name,” and more are all blocked, and displaying the standard error message:

In accordance with the relevant laws and regulations, your search results cannot be shown.

According to some users, messages containing those phrases are also being deleted manually by Sina’s censors. We were unable to confirm this independently, and a message I posted this afternoon containing the phrase “real-name registration” remains on my account at present. However, that doesn’t mean that other users haven’t been having posts deleted.

Yesterday, we noted numerous users complaining that spam had actually increased since the regulations went into effect, so it could be that Sina is trying to keep a handle on those complaints by silencing them, or it could be that something else entirely is going on.

It’s still far too early to tell what effect the registration requirement has had on user activity, but the registration counter on Sina’s real-name registration page seems to have broken, or perhaps been turned off intentionally. When we last checked, it showed that just over 19 million users had registered, or about six percent of Sina’s total registered user base. But it’s unclear what the number is now or why Sina is no longer displaying it publicly.

(And yes, we're serious about ethics and transparency. More information here.)

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