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Online chat groups must self-regulate under new rules: By Zhang Hui in Global Times, Sept 13, 2017

13 September 2017 No Comment

The Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) released a set of regulations on the management of online chat groups on September 7, saying that people who establish such chat groups are responsible for the administration of the group.

The group creators must regulate the behavior of members as well as their posts in accordance with the law, user agreements and platform conventions.

“Whoever creates the group should be responsible, and whoever administers the group should be responsible,” the regulation states.

The new regulations will take effect on October 8.

The new rules sparked wide discussions in China, especially among users of instant messenger app Tencent WeChat and the Twitter-like Sino Weibo.

Wang Sixin, a cyber law professor at the Communication University of China, wrote an article to explain the new regulations, which went viral on Tuesday.

Wang agrees that creators of chat groups should monitor remarks posted in the groups, but denies that the rules infringe on people’s freedom of speech.

“The regulations are aimed at maintaining order in online groups, and it is completely unrelated to restricting online speech,” Wang told the Global Times.

Group administrators’ responsibilities mean that they cannot use the group to commit crime, and they should follow up their members’ posts, as the groups are created to satisfy the needs of the creators, according to Wang.

“It’s like opening a restaurant – the owner should be responsible for its food,” Wang told the Global Times.

But in most cases group creators will be exempt from responsibility if they make reports to the service provider or punish the relevant members according to group rules, he noted.

Wang believes that the freedom and privacy of communication refers to exchanging information between two individuals, and that online groups can be used to organize activities.

Online groups could be exploited by the creator to conduct offline activities and even commit crimes, he said.

Taking responsibility

“However, the punishment for violations should only be limited to suspending the online groups rather than people being deprived of personal freedom,” Wang said.

In the past weeks, news reports about police detaining creators of online groups for making improper remarks have been widely carried in the media.

In one of the news reports, a man in East China’s Anhui Province was given a five-day detention for making abusive comments about police in a WeChat group he created.

Some creators have started to impose stricter rules on their groups before the new regulations take effect, and others have deactivated their groups.

Some group administrators announced in their chat group the importance of abiding by the law.

He Yafu, a well-known demographer and administrator of a demography-themed WeChat group with over 300 members, wrote and posted a group chat rule Tuesday, saying that members cannot discuss topics unrelated to family planning policies, post advertisements or illegal information.

Those in violation will be warned or removed from the group, he said.

Making rules on posts in groups is useful as many members post about unrelated topics and even insult others, He said.

“I will be stricter in managing the group after the regulations take effect. I used to warn members rather than kick them out, but I will consider the latter more,” He told the Global Times. www.globaltimes.cn/content/1066100.shtml

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