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Regulation of 'Chinese Twitter' seen as Government censorship

Weibo - the Chinese version of Twitter Photo: Weibo

An anonymous group of users on China's largest microblogging service, the equivalent of Twitter, has introduced a new code of conduct which critics say is the latest attempt to censor social media.

Earlier this year, the comments function on the site was suspended after the government warned people not to spread "false rumours". Some users had posted photos of tanks on the streets of Beijing claiming a military coup was underway in the wake of the sacking of Bo Xilai, a senior politician.

Former governor of Chongqing Bo Xilai Credit: REUTERS/Jason Lee/Files

The new rules propose that a user starts with 80 "points" which can be deducted for breaking the rules. The "community convention" says points will be taken away if users "spread rumours", "threaten China's honour" or "call for illegal protests".

The company that runs the site, Sina, has not come up with the idea itself and it remains to be seen whether the regulations will be imposed and policed. Using social media to criticise government policies or chat about political events has become a new way for "netizens", as they are called, to voice their opinions.

With a half a billion people online in China, around 300 million are using microblogging sites - that is roughly the population of the United States all making comments on a regular basis.

Some of China's half-a-billion internet users Credit: REUTERS/Stringer

State censorship has become more difficult, especially as there has been a sharp rise in the number of microblog users in the last three years. One regular blogger told me there is a cyber war between the state and site users, "a cat and mouse game" as he called it.

Meanwhile, although Facebook is banned in China, the company's boss Mark Zuckerberg has managed to appear in a State TV documentary about the police. It seems he and his wife, then girlfriend, Priscilla Chan, were visiting Shanghai in March, when they inadvertantly walked behind two officers being filmed for the programme called "Chinese Police".

The cameo walk-on part has sparked a massive response on social media sites with many people wondering if this is some sort of warm-up act for Facebook entering the Chinese market. One user says "Advertising ploy!!! It can't be by chance..."