Following last year’s crackdown on the spreading of online rumors via microblogging platforms like Sina Weibo, which led to a significant decrease in activity on the platform, in early August China announced new restrictions on instant messaging tools such as WeChat, Laiwang, QQ, and Miliao. The new restrictions will require real-name registration for public accounts, requiring public account holders to sign a contract promising to “obey the law and uphold the socialist system,” and seek official authorization before publishing or reprinting political news.
The blanket regulations are believed to be aimed at the wildly popular WeChat, which currently boasts over 4 million public accounts and nearly 400 million users worldwide.
The moves come after China banned foreign instant messaging platforms like South Korea’s KakaoTalk and Japan’s Line last month, citing antiterrorism concerns. According to the New York Times, although the final effect the new regulations will have on WeChat is yet to be seen, if last year’s Weibo crackdown is any indication, “it may be substantial.” An earlier tightening of controls in May saw the removal of over 400 public accounts and around 20 million WeChat accounts that parent company Tencent said were linked to prostitution.
Naturally, these new regulations will have consequences for brands, though the degree to which they will be enforced is up for debate. As they typically post promotional, non-political content, most brands active on WeChat will have little to worry about on the content side, and the new regulations may benefit some brands in one way — the potential deletion of fake brand accounts. However, ultimately brands should take a wait-and-see attitude, and prepare to deal with some troublesome red tape in the months ahead.