As has been threatened for a while, the 320 million users of the Sina Weibo, the Chinese microblog site, will now have to register their real names and ID numbers to their account. After 16 March unregistered users won’t be allowed to post or forward messages. This will allow the government to trace anti-government sentiment on the site that has given Chinese people a powerful tool for free expression.
How will this affect China’s LGBT rights groups who have been able to reach a larger audience than ever before via the site, and LGBT people who have found a freedom of expression online that they lack in their every day lives? 'If there is only one place where Chinese people have the freedom of speech in mass media, it must be Weibo,' says LGBT rights campaigner Siqi Zhao.
But rights campaigners agree that the new rules are not devastating news for LGBT groups or individuals, in or out of the closet. The executive director of the Beijing LGBT Center Guo Ziyang, told Gay Star News: ‘Actually, the new rules do not represent a big change for many LGBT persons in China. The newly required information will not be publicly available, and the majority of users have been aware from the beginning that the internet is not completely anonymous. We all must take precautions when posting online. However, at the same time we do recognize that this change may cause some LGBT users to deactivate or no longer use Weibo.’
Zhao points out that LGBT websites have seen their page views diminish, ‘because their audience can get what they want on Weibo’ he says. If their audience leave Weibo then LGBT groups will have to adapt the methods of reaching their audience again. But Zhao says that even gay users is in the closet, who don’t want to link their real names to their accounts, can always stay on Weibo as a silent observer who’s not able to post but can follow the posts of LGBT groups. And even if he does register his real name the general public won’t be able to see it, only the government will, potentially.
LGBT activists are out and proud on Weibo so they won’t have a problem registering their real names, or worry that the government will monitor their activity. The Chinese government have a largely passive approach to LGBT rights in the country, they don’t obstruct them but they don’t do much to encourage them either. ‘After all,’ says Zhao. ‘We have no other choice beyond Weibo now. If we want spread out gay message, obey the rule.’