China's Sina to step-up censorship of Weibo

BEIJING (Reuters) - China’s biggest micro-blog operator, Sina Corp, is enhancing self-censorship to stamp out “rumours” as it copes with explosive growth in user numbers, its chief executive Charles Chao said, according to a news report on Monday.

The logo of Sina Corp's Chinese microblog website "Weibo" is seen on a screen in this photo illustration taken in Beijing September 13, 2011. REUTERS/Stringer

Chao said the Sina’s “Weibo” microblogging site had over 200 million registered users by the end of June who were sending out up to 75 million comments and messages every day, the China News Service reported.

Chinese officials have voiced worries about the feverish growth of microblogs, which can be used to send information and comments unwelcome to the ruling Communist Party’s censors, and Chao said he was listening to the worries about false “rumours” spreading across the Internet with lightning speed.

“Because sometimes rumours can spread too quickly, Sina is now establishing more mechanisms to quash rumours through a variety of channels,” Chao told an industry forum in Beijing on Sunday.

“There is a lot of false news on Weibo, and there are also many rumours, and this is creating a big challenge for government management and is also a huge challenge for vendors on our platform,” said Chao, adding that rumours are magnified on Weibo due to the large audience.

Chinese microblogs carry plenty of celebrity gossip and harmless fare. But they also offer forums for lambasting officials and reporting unrest or official abuses, and Beijing is worried about their potential to erode the party’s authority and stoke popular discontent, even protest.

China blocks popular foreign sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, and uses filters and monitoring to block unwelcome comment on domestic Internet sites.

But a stream of warnings in state media has exposed how nervous Beijing is about the booming microblogs, and analysts have said stricter regulation could be coming.

These microblogs allow users to issue bursts of opinion -- a maximum of 140 Chinese characters -- that can spread through chains of followers who instantly receive messages.

Chao said stamping out “rumours” could demand a firmer regulatory framework.

“From this perspective, the basic point for protecting what we call healthy order on microblogs lies in sounds laws and regulations and upgrading legal enforcement,” he said.

Reporting by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ken Wills and Ed Lane