(Bloomberg) -- China’s largest social media players from Tencent Holdings Ltd. to ByteDance Ltd. have asked their most popular influencers to display their actual identities, a major shift that tightens Beijing’s grip over the world’s largest internet arena.
Tencent’s WeChat, ByteDance’s TikTok-like Douyin and video service Kuaishou Technology were among the platforms that posted remarkably similar notices Tuesday requiring users with at least half a million followers to reveal their real names in online posts. They’re following in the footsteps of microblogging site Weibo Corp., whose chief executive telegraphed the move by unmasking his own identity on his Twitter-like platform earlier this month.
The simultaneous announcements — many of which referred to “self-media” — suggest the government may be behind the policy. Beijing has for years run one of the world’s most efficient internet control regimes, scrubbing content it deems dangerous and going after users that challenge Party messages. The effort to expose influencers underscores concern not just about dissent, but also criminal activity such as stock market manipulation and fake news.
The policy, the first of its kind among major social media outfits, goes beyond current Chinese regulations that require users provide real IDs to platform operators during the registration process. In July, China’s top internet watchdog demanded online platforms tighten control on independent content creators, including via better verification of accounts.
“To combat the spread of ‘self-media,’ strengthen content quality and accuracy, we will begin adopting real names for users with more than 500,000 followers in stages,” Xiaohongshu, often referred to as China’s Instagram, said in its notice.
Read more: China’s X-Like Service Asks Top Influencers to Show Real Names
Weibo Chief Executive Officer Wang Gaofei this month was among the first to implement the change to his own personal account. Rival social apps said on Tuesday, with certain variations in detail, that users with more than a million followers will be among the first to shift toward real names. That threshold will drop to half a million at a later date. Some of the platforms called out influencers in areas including politics, current affairs and the economy as specifically targeted by the new rules.
Weibo users have voiced concerns that they could face more real-life risks from online activities.
Chinese internet users grapple with one of the strictest censorship regimes in the world, particularly on social media services that are often repositories for entertainment news and celebrity gossip, topics subject to regular scrutiny by regulators.
Last year, social apps including Weibo and Douyin started to display users’ locations based on their internet protocol addresses, a mandatory feature they say was designed to stem the spread of false rumors.
Read more: China Tightens Content Controls on Social Media Influencers
--With assistance from Foster Wong, Sarah Zheng and Jane Zhang.
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