Published on 24 Jul 2022

China tightens hold on netizens amid privacy, free speech issues

The Sunday Times, page A12 -

China has been tightening its hold on netizens, with Chinese social media giants publishing their users’ locations and banning the use of similar-sounding words meant to skirt censorship. Microblogging platform Weibo said on July 13 that it will step up efforts to clean up the use of homophones that are meant to “spread unhealthy or illegal messages”.

Prof Ang Peng Hwa at NTU Singapore, an expert in media law, said that publishing users’ locations will have a dampening effect on speech in China, though it depends on how forcefully censors pursue those who cross boundaries. The effect is largely psychological, he added, as the measure discourages “a courage to express”, given that the authorities can already track IP addresses.