Real name registration “not very effective?”

Around a year ago, Chinese authorities began instituting a new measure for online censorship and control: real name registration. Starting with the Beijing Internet Information Office, authorities around the country began establishing regulations forcing online social media sites, particularly microblogs, to require users to provide their real name, verified by the national ID number of the user. As a censorship method, this would seem to be highly effective. While an individual might be willing to complain about the government or post objectionable information online under cover of anonymity, the knowledge that the authorities could easily acquire their name and address could turn off even the most ardent online activist.

The Sina Weibo account of popular blogger, writer, and race car driver Han Han

A similar policy was applied to the video game industry a few years ago in the hope that it would curb excessive gaming by Chinese youth. Video games must require users to submit their national ID number before playing. If the ID number is of a individual under the age of 18, they’re limited to less than three hours of gameplay per day.

The effectiveness of these policies is questionable, however. Discussing the issue with a Shanghainese friend (who happens to be a video game player under the age of 18) today, I learned that it’s common practice among Chinese youth gamers to simply supply a fake ID number in order to avoid the block on more than three hours of gaming. Adult ID numbers can be found through a quick Google search, I was told, which can then be submitted instead of a gamer’s actual ID number. Alternatively, it’s fairly easy to simply guess at a national ID number, as they are at least partially randomly generated.

It has also been claimed that similar regulations regarding real name registration of cell phones are not effective. In China, it often seems that there is a (well-intentioned) law or regulation for everything under the sun, but lack of enforcement makes these rules irrelevant. There’s a joke that China must have the best environment on the planet as it has more environmental regulations than any other nation on the planet.  I think it is certainly the case, as I’ve argued before in this blog. Perhaps my friend’s thoughts on video game real name registration regulations could very well apply to law in China in general: “Not very effective.”