Chinese Weibo shows user locations to curb ‘bad behavior’

By Reuters

Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, told users on Thursday it would start posting their IP locations on their account pages and when they post comments, in a bid to curb “bad behavior” online.

The decision, posted on the official Weibo account, garnered more than 200 million views and was widely discussed, with some users rattled by the perceived reduction in their online anonymity.

“Every IP address seems to be whispering in your ear, ‘Be careful,'” user Misty wrote.

Others, however, said they supported the measures, in light of COVID-related misinformation.

“Especially at a time when the COVID situation is still dire, early disclosure of IP addresses can effectively reduce the appearance of disgusting content from rumor makers and rumor spreaders,” user UltraScarry wrote.

Weibo (WB), which has more than 570 million monthly active users, said users’ IP addresses would be displayed under new settings that came into effect on Thursday and cannot be turned off by users.

For users in China, the platform will display the province or municipality they are posting from, he said. For those using Weibo overseas, the country of users’ IP addresses will be displayed.

The settings are designed to “reduce bad behavior such as impersonation of parties involved in hot topics, malicious misinformation and traffic scraping, and to ensure the authenticity and transparency of the content delivered” , he said in a notice.

“Weibo has always been committed to maintaining a healthy and orderly discussion atmosphere and protecting the rights and interests of users to obtain real and effective information promptly,” the notice said.

The effects of the new rules were already visible below the notice, as thousands of user comments all had an additional label indicating the province or municipality of the user’s IP address.

Last month, Weibo announced that it would start testing these settings on some users in response to misinformation about the war between Ukraine and Russia.

China tightly controls its cyberspace and over the past year has stepped up efforts to “clean up” the internet. Chinese social media sites that fail to censor critical content face financial penalties as well as temporary service suspensions under applicable law.

Weibo, which has received several fines from China’s cyberspace regulator over the past year, frequently posts notices about its efforts to curb bad behavior online, including posting the names of punished accounts.

However, he did not publicly address instances of accounts being suspended or banned for simply expressing dissenting views, such as supporting Ukraine or criticizing Russia over the ongoing war.

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