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FILE PHOTO: A computer mouse is illuminated by a projection of a Chinese flag in this photo illustration October 1, 2013. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
BEIJING (Reuters) - China issued new rules on instant messaging chat groups on Thursday, tightening control over online discussions ahead of a sensitive leadership reshuffle next month.
Beijing has been ramping up measures to secure the internet and maintain strict censorship, a process that has accelerated ahead of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party, when global attention will be on the world’s No.2 economy.
Group chats on instant messaging apps and online commenting threads have seen a surge in popularity in China in recent years as forums for discussion, partly because they are private for members and so in theory are subject to less censorship.
Internet chat service providers must now verify the identities of their users and keep a blog of group chats for no less than six months, the Cyberspace Administration of China said in a statement released on its website
The rules, which take effect on Oct 8, just before the congress is due to begin, will cover platforms provided by China’s internet titans, such as Tencent’s WeChat and QQ, Baidu’s Tieba and Alibaba’s Alipay chat.
The regulations also require companies to establish a credit system, and to provide group chat services to users in accordance to their credit rating, CAC said.
Chat group participants who break the rules will see their credit scores lowered, their rights to manage group chats suspended or revoked and should be reported to the relevant government department, it added.
The CAC did not immediately respond to a faxed request for comment sent after office hours on Thursday.
The administration also said the owner of the chat group should bear responsibility for the management of the group.
"Whoever owns the group should be responsible, and whoever manages the group should be responsible," it said.
The new rules are the latest requirement for China's internet giants, who have already been subject to investigations from the CAC into their top social media sites for failing to comply with cyber laws.
The administration has already taken down popular celebrity gossip social media accounts and extended restrictions on what news can be produced and distributed by online platforms, and has embarked on a campaign to remove virtual private network apps, which allow users to access websites blocked by the authorities.
(Reporting by Pei Li and Christian Shepherd)