BLOGGERS beware: You're now being held to a higher level of responsibility for any wayward writings you post on the Internet.
China's top 10 blog service providers have signed a pact urging bloggers to follow "generally accepted moral standards and legal rules" in their postings and to uphold their "social responsibilities."
The BSPs should also encourage identification verification during registration so they can hold bloggers responsible for what they say.
The pact was developed in cooperation with the government-backed Internet Society of China.
The measures are designed to combat the growing number of people who use the blogosphere to attack others, violate copyrights, infringe people's privacy and spread pornography and other illegal content.
As worthy as its goals may be, the pact is not legally binding on the service provider or the bloggers who hit the "agree" button when registering their cyber screeds, however. The greatest punishment for service providers that ignore errant writing is inclusion on a blacklist published in the news media. Bloggers who violate the rules can get cut off by their service providers.
China's blogging scene has developed rapidly in the past few years. More than 70 percent of the country's 137 million Internet users either wrote their own blogs or were regular readers of others' writings last year, making blogs the fastest growing Web service, according to the ISC.
"The blogs have become a platform for showing off people's personalities and a new way of communication, but they have also created problems such as spreading false information and malicious attacks," said Huang Chengqing, secretary-general of the ISC.
The first successful lawsuit against a Chinese blog occurred in August last year, when a university professor took a site to court that carried student criticism of his work.
The Gulou District People's Court in Nanjing ordered Blogcn.com to pay 1,000 yuan (US$133) to Chen Tangfa, an associate professor at Nanjing University's School of Journalism, and to post an apology on its Website.
The dispute began when the professor found what he considered to be slanderous comments posted on Blogcn by a former student. The student was apparently unhappy with the professor's classroom manner and teaching materials, offering comments such as "Chen Tangfa is indeed an uncouth person. I can see this from his book. He wrote the worst textbook."
Another recent problem case was the blog purportedly posted by Cha Liangyong, who writes popular stories about kung fu heroes from ancient times under the pen name Jin Yong. Cha was enraged to find that someone was writing a blog on Bokee.com using his pen name and had posted dozens of articles.
Such cases are not rare as the number of bloggers continues to soar along with growth in China's Internet use. There were 31 million blog writers in China as of June, an increase from nearly 21 million at the end of last year.
To address bloggers who have gone bad, the ISC, with support from the Ministry of Information Industry, has been studying the feasibility of enforcing identification verification for blog site registrations to keep writers from escaping sanctions through anonymity.
The response from bloggers have been mixed.
Ramona Bao, a white-collar worker who regularly updates her blog on MSN Space, supports registration verification, saying it will help keep irresponsible comments out of cyberspace.
Jim Ren, an advertising agency technician, prefers anonymity, arguing it allows bloggers to write more freely on the Web. "If real name as used, I don't think I would read the blogs because people would be afraid to speak their minds and the blogs would be boring."
He is also concerned about identification information leaks on the Internet.
In any event, implementation of a verification scheme seems far off.
"Due to the lack of a complete nationwide verification mechanism, it is not practical yet to carry out true ID registration in the blogosphere," said Fang Xingdong, chairman of Blogchina.com.
The service providers are also concerned about the costs of verifying identification, which would require a link to the country's ID database at five yuan per check.
Another challenge lies in the fact that registration verification would involve hundreds of blog service providers and thousands of individuals sites, which can be hosted anywhere in the world.