An outspoken online celebrity was allegedly expelled Tuesday from Sina Weibo, China's largest microblogging service provider, amid a new round of tighter online regulation.
The Weibo account of Wang Xiaoshan, a prominent publisher and blogger renowned for his bold stances on various social issues, was closed Tuesday, fueling heated discussion among Web users.
Wang refused to comment on the matter when contacted by the Global Times, but speculation online suggested his expulsion from the Twitter-like service might be related to his long-term campaign against dairy giant Mengniu.
Wang called for a boycott of Mengniu products after it was involved in a melamine scandal in 2008 that resulted in the deaths of six infants and the hospitalization of hundreds of thousands more.
As of late Tuesday, Wang's microblog accounts on other sites were still active. He called for calm among his followers on his account on Sohu.
Wang is the latest high-profile Web user allegedly blacklisted by Sina, the country's most influential microblogging service provider. A series of media commentators, scholars and writers have also reportedly been silenced or ousted from the bustling cyber world.
He Bing, a deputy dean at the Law School of the China University of Political Science and Law and an outspoken online celebrity known for his commentary on legal matters, told the Global Times that by the end of April, he had been blocked by several microblogging sites.
"Sina told me that they were going to close my account following orders from related departments, without giving an explanation. Sohu and Tencent also closed my accounts," said He, who used to have 230,000 followers on Sina Weibo.
"Closing my account is irresponsible. If I have broken the law or any regulations, authorities have every right to investigate and punish me. But closing my Weibo accounts without explanation does not make sense."
Sina declined to comment on the termination of some of its users' accounts when contacted by the Global Times.
Instead, it issued a "Weibo community pact" late Tuesday stipulating users' rights and more than 20 regulations.
According to the guidelines, users are not allowed to post comments that violate the basic principles set by the Constitution or threaten to compromise national security, reputation or interests. Microbloggers who breach the rules risk having their accounts closed, Sina outlined.
Chen Youxi, a Zhejiang-based lawyer, told the Southern Metropolis Daily that the closure of users' accounts is a violation of the providers' service contract and thus infringes users' freedom of speech rights.
Internet authorities have tightened supervision of microblogging sites since late last year, including introducing a real-name registration system that requires microbloggers to provide their real identity.
From March 31 to April 3, Sina and Tencent suspended user commenting to crack down on rumor-mongering and dissemination of illegal information, as required by the national Internet regulator.
During that time, some Web users were detained for fabricating or disseminating online rumors.
Some scholars such as Zhang Ming, a political science scholar at Renmin University of China known for his controversial views on social and political issues, left Sina Weibo in April and expressed discontent over alleged increasing restrictions.
Zhan Jiang, a professor of journalism at Beijing Foreign Studies University, told the Global Times that it is understandable authorities are tightening regulations on microblogging to maintain social stability ahead of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, slated for autumn.
The rise of microblogging has created technological difficulties for regulators, Zhan said.
Liu Xiaoying, a professor of international journalism at the Communication University of China, told the Global Times that adequate online supervision, such as the crackdown on rumors, is necessary, but added regulators should acknowledge people's need to express diversified ideas on the Internet.
"The key problem right now is determining how to balance the public's right to know with social stability," Liu said, noting that people do not need to feel pessimistic toward such changes as it is "an irresistible trend that people will enjoy more liberal speech as China's democratization advances."