Is Sina Bowing to Chinese Authorities?

As China’s government continues to crack down on microblogs, Web giant Sina (NASDAQ:SINA) is announcing plans to introduce a ‘user contract’ for its Twitter-like Sina Weibo service. The terms are set to be introduced on May 28.

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Sina recently admitted it hadn’t fully implemented China’s new rules for microblogs, but the new user contracts seems to be a move in that direction. The Chinese government has a real-name verification rule for microblogs that helps it track what is being said online, and by whom, as it tries to squash the spreading of harmful “rumors” about the state.

Sina was reprimanded by the government for failing to adequately control its service when rumor of a political coup proliferated on Weibo in April. Its punishment was having its comment feature deactivated for three days to allow the service to be “cleaned.”

Article 13 in Sina’s new user contract stipulates that users may not publish any information that opposes the basic principles established by the constitution; harms the unity, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of the nation; reveals national secrets, endangers national security or threatens the honor or interests of the nation; and so on and so forth.

Article 23 details how violators of the agreement will be penalized — users may be prevented from reposting, commenting or annotation may be disabled, users may be forbidden to follow other users, or prevented from posting their own weibos, and finally, accounts may be deleted altogether.

Of course, another more severe penalty may still come from the government, which has been known to dole out severe punishments for actions that seem trivial to much of the Western world. For example, Chinese authorities sentenced one woman to a year in a labor camp for a retweet. They also expelled Al Jazeera’s China correspondent, forcing the news agency to leave the country.

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