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Analysis: China seeks to tether the microblog tiger

Sep 15, 2011, 9:59 p.m.
Members of the SWAT police force ride motorbikes past a policeman standing guard on the road surrounding Tiananmen Square outside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing March 6, 2011. REUTERS/David Gray

Instead, Beijing is exploring ways to tame the microblog so it remains a useful forum for monitoring opinion, but stays within the ultimate grip of authorities. The government is "still at the stage of collecting ideas" about how to better manage microblogs, said Yu.

Ways of putting microblogs on a tighter leash that have been floated include a time-delay so operators can monitor messages more thoroughly before they go out, and demanding that users who forward messages use their real names, which could deter many of them from challenging censorship.

Even relatively limited steps could draw an outcry from microblog users, said Mark Natkin, managing director of Marbridge Consulting, a Beijing-based company that advises investors about China's Internet and telecommunications sectors.

Tighter controls could also come tied to new license demands, which could be used to reduce the number of Chinese microblog operators and keep only those seen as reliable enforcers of government demands. For now, Chinese microblog sites are formally operating on a "trial" basis.

Sina has a reputation as a trusted partner of regulators, and might even welcome tougher licensing conditions that deter upstarts, said Li, the professor.

"Sina might be happy to guide its microblog space more in the direction of entertainment so the government has fewer jitters," he said.

(Additional reporting by Maxim Duncan in Beijing and Melanie Lee in Shanghai, editing by Brian Rhoads and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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