The Cyberspace Administration of China will from next week require bloggers to have an official credential before they can publish on a wide range of subjects.
Some people fear that only state media and movers of official propaganda will get permission.
While permits have been needed since at least 2017 to write about topics such as political and military affairs, enforcement has not been widespread. The new rules expand that requirement to health, economics, education and judicial matters.
The latest move is in line with ever more restrictive regulations under President Xi Jinping that constrict an already narrow space for discourse.
The president has made “digital sovereignty” a central concept of his rule, and the credential requirement could restrict individuals from posting original content even if they are not challenging the Chinese Communist Party.
Weibo CEO Wang Gaofei said commentary on news released by official media was permitted, but commentators could not release news themselves.
The revision is meant “to standardize and steer public accounts and information service platforms to be more self aware in keeping the correct direction of public opinion,” read a statement from the Cyberspace Administration. After mentioning new rules last month, the administration held a nationwide conference on the importance of “strengthening order in online publishing.”
Its head, Zhuang Rongwen, said there was a need to “let our supervision and management grow teeth.”
Also this month, the agency announced a month-long clean-up drive targeting search engines, social media platforms and browsers. Such campaigns, in which companies take steps to meet official demands, are not new, but enforcement was looser in the past.
“It’s a massive campaign,” said Xiao Qiang, an expert on digital censorship at the University of California at Berkeley.
Banned topics include “articles and commentary on politics, economics, military affairs, diplomatic and public affairs; taking out of context and distorting the content of the party and country’s history; and breaking news and commentary.”
And a current affairs account on Tencent’s WeChat was shut down last week on “suspicion of providing an internet news information service.” It was run by Yu Shenghong, a former journalist at state broadcaster CCTV.