Nobody Knows You Are a Dog? Foreground Real Name Regulation on Sina Weibo

1.A big splash

A piece of breaking news emerged in October 2023(Image 1) released by Rong Hong, a famous influencer on Weibo, revealing that Sina Weibo, China’s main information and social platform often likened to China’s Twitter, along with 6 other platforms[1], announced plans to enforce foreground real name regulation, causing a big splash online.

Image 1 The breaking news released by Hong Rong, a Weibo top financial influencer, said that the mandatory foreground real name regulation will be implemented. Fans could know the gender of the influencers they follow and recognise them in real life, and this may lead to the disappearance of several influencers.

Looking back at Weibo’s governance history, this latest regulation is not the first to touch upon issues of privacy and security:

In 2012, in accordance with the Beijing Weibo Development Management Provisions issued by the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Economy and Information Technology (2011), Weibo started implementing the “background real-name registration and voluntary display on the foreground” regulation, mandating users to register using their real names and introducing document audits.

In 2017, Weibo required users to link their accounts with their phone numbers.

In 2022, Weibo began displaying users’ IP addresses revealing the city of residence for users within China and the country for users outside China.

The foreground real name regulation represents a further step in governing internet information and privacy, contributing to the fading of internet anonymity.

What is ‘ Foreground real name regulation’?

According to the Weibo Official(2023), this new regulation mandates influencers who major in social affairs, military, finance, law, medicine and other professional domains, with over 1 million followers, to provide their real name information under the guidance of Weibo and to display their real names on the foreground page after being audited by Weibo. This rule will be progressively applied to influencers with over 500,000 followers in related fields.

Users failing to provide personal information will face restrictions on data flow and income. This includeslimitations on the recommendation and illustration in the hot search rank, as well as reduced advertisement profits and bonuses. Users who have not logged in, failed to verify their real identity information, exhibit abnormal behaviour, and have recently been disposed of for unfriendly behaviour, are prohibited from viewing other users’ foreground real names.

2.Why and who throws the stone? 

It is necessary to clarify that the starting point of this regulation is to ensure the accuracy of content and maintain the Weibo environment, rather than focusing on privacy and security. Several reasons support this consideration:

First and foremost, every user has been transformed into a producer, consumer and disseminator of information because of the anonymity and freedom of the internet(Lindgren, 2022; Flew, 2021) and the civilianization of journalism in the digital era. This shift has shattered the one-directional communication model of traditional media(Mark Poster, 1994; Shimpach, 2011),  leading to a significant expansion and acceleration of online information dissemination. 

Image 2 The pie chart of The Report of Top Search Topic Trends on Weibo 2023

It shows that 30% for social trends, 40% for entertainment trends, and 30 for other vertical content. Comparatively, the proportion of these three aspects is relatively balanced.

Moreover, social and entertainment content-based influencers wield considerable influence over the public discourse. The 2023 Report of Top Search Topic Trends on Weibo (Weibo data centre, 2024) shows that social and entertainment-related topics accounted for 70% of 2023 Weibo’s data flow; in contrast, the total quantity of other fields such as technology, cosmetics and life-sharing merely occupies 30%, indicating the substantial topicality and mainstreaming degree of social and entertainment fields. Furthermore, influencers, with their large follower bases, possess a considerable ability to shape public opinion. Thus, with the high-attention topics and numbers of fans, the implications conducted by these influencers are even more amplified, raising potential concerns about negative influence.

However, these influencers also introduce significant information uncertainty due to their high reliance on personal knowledge and journalistic ethics. Unlike traditional authoritative media which verify the authenticity of information by conducting research, interviews and forensics, a majority of current individual influencers are incapable of verifying information. Moreover, their pursuit of freedom of expression and merits brought by attention, combined with their substantial influence, has triggered a scope of fake news and criminal activities, resulting in negative social consequences.

Additionally, the freedom afforded by the internet has led to the violation of the privacy rights of individuals by other users, resulting in instances of hate speech and cyberbullying that disrupt the lives of affected parties.

In short, the interplay of these complex factors has created a challenging Weibo environment with implications, leading to the necessity of regulatory intervention. However, it is interesting that the platforms, which are supposed to be responsible for their content and influence, are reluctant to regulate themselves or be regulated by external authorities. Consequently, the ineffective self-regulation by platforms has inevitably brought government intervention, despite the platforms’ dissatisfaction with such oversight(Image 3).

Image 3 Comment of Foreground real name regulation left by a famous social affairs influencer on Weibo called Wuxinjianying.

He said ‘Since the quarrels are so fierce, I also give some comments. A few days ago, I also received a notice, and here I want to support Jiazong(the Nickname of the Weibo CEO’s account Laiquzhijian) as well that this is not the platform’s decision, and they have communicated and even argued(with the government), but useless.

The government has increasingly recognised the potential negative impact of content on online platforms after concentrating more on regulating internet suppliers in the early decades of the internet(Flew, 2021). In this case, consequently, a series of laws and regulations are enacted by the Chinese government, such as Several Provisions on the Administration of the Development of Microblogs in Beijing, Regulations of the People’s Republic of China on Telecommunications, Decree of the State Internet Information Office, Provisions on the Administration of Information on Internet User Accounts, underpinning the regulations implemented from 2012-beyond. Thus, this regulation has top-to-bottom, legally mandated governance features.

3.Is Foreground Real Name regulation for my good?——The implication and potential problems on policy, platform and users’ privacy

Although the primary aim of Foreground real-name regulation is to urge influencers to take responsibility for matching their influence, thereby furthering the management of the public opinion environment on Weibo. However, the mandatory revealing of real names evokes concerns among users regarding privacy and security.

What is the Right of Privacy? It is widely recognized as a fundamental human right which is confined by other competing rights, duties, and norms in practice. Its meaning is concluded by Rengel(2013) that it includes ‘the right to be left alone, the ability to protect oneself from unwanted access by others, the right to secrecy, control over personal information, protection of one’s personality, individuality, and dignity and control over one’s intimate relationships or over aspects of one’s life’.  Although the approaches to protecting privacy vary across countries and regions, concerns about privacy loss rank among the most frequently discussed issues in the digital media and internet field(Flew, 2021).

On the one hand, this regulation represents a worthy trade-off between users, platforms and governments for it ‘sacrifices’ a degree of privacy in exchange for a cleaner Weibo environment. Specifically, real names provide users with a reference point to evaluate content posted by influencers, standardise influencer behaviour to facilitate better supervision and reinforce the credibility and authority of influencers, leading to a more credible and harmonious environment and user experience(Weibo Official, 2023). 

On the other hand, this regulation also raises significant concerns.

First and foremost, the mandatory nature of this privacy trade-off encroaches upon individuals’ privacy rights, particularly their “control over all aspects of life. To be specific, Weibo stipulates that ‘users who are eligible for this regulation but have not provided their real names yet will be confined on data flow, including being recommended and displayed on topic search, and income, including ads shares and bonus (Weibo Offical, 2023)’. Moreover, according to Laiquzhijian’s(Image 4)[2] suggestion, individuals reluctant to disclose their real names could delete their followers to less than 1 million, or change content and fields. However, the latter method requires a further content audition to reach the final determination. In other words, users who do not comply with this rule will face limitations on career establishment and content posting.

Image 4 Suggestions from Weibo CEO Laiquzhijian: There are ways around not wanting to display the real name on the foreground page. The first is to clear the followers, deleting them to less than 1 million; the second is to change the content, for example, if you used to be keen on discussing international affairs, it is not too late for you to hurry to transform into a food blogger. The first method is easy, but the second one which requires changing the field depends on the actual content you post, you could not transform into a food blogger if you do not post cuisines.

Secondly, the regulation’s expansion will weaken internet anonymity, exposing users to increased risks of harassment, cyberbullying, and real-life implications. In detail, according to the implementation of previous regulations about real-name which were promoted simultaneously by multiple platforms in the later stages, it is inevitable to worry about its enlargement in the later phases despite this regulation now being limitedly enforced on particular influencer groups. Furthermore, the real identity veiled in the internet is likely to be decoded by the pooling of real names, phone numbers and IP addresses since different platforms share information and operations in this age, such as sharing information, jumping to another webpage or app, keeping using the same account for multiple platforms, leading to threatening personal safety. 

Third, out of the distrust of the platform and third-party operators, the concerns about heightened privacy leaking and related crimes are fueled. Specifically, the endless emerging telecommunication fraud speeded up by privacy breaches since 2012 undermines users’ trust in data and privacy security. Compared to hackers’ straightforward invading, platforms’ indirect approaches of privacy exploitation, such as selling user data to third-party operators, exacerbate these concerns(Flew, 2021). 

Finally, in terms of government governance, this regulation could raise worries that it represents another test of the scope of personal privacy and the public’s acceptance of privacy management, which may enhance management effectiveness as well as more targeted intrusions into personal privacy rights and undermine public trust in the future.

4.Conclusion and possible solutions 

The foreground real name regulation is another rule involving privacy and security, this two-sided sword aims to decontaminate the Weibo environment, as well as raising apprehensions about privacy infringement.

To ensure the effectiveness of this regulation and safeguard users’ privacy and Weibo use experience, several measures are suggested. Firstly, the government should reinforce the management of platforms and third-party operators in charge of storing and utilizing privacy data. Secondly, the implementation of the policy should be accompanied by more detailed guidelines to minimize privacy risks. Thirdly, there is a need to bolster content auditing mechanisms, prioritizing the recommendation and display of influencers who post verified and authentic content. Meanwhile, influencers who engage in online violence or disseminate false information should be tagged and appropriately penalized, including temporary posting bans or account suspensions for severe infractions.


Beijing Municipal Bureau of Economy and Information Technology. (2011, December 29). Beijing Weibo development management provisions.北京市微博客发展管理若干规定 【字体: 大 中,小 】 打印 第一条 为了规范微博客服务的发展管理,维护网络传播秩序,保障信息安全,保护互联网信息服务单位和微博客用户的合法权益,满足公众对互联网信息的需求,促进互联网健康有序发展,根据《中华人民共和国电信条例》、《互联网信息服务管理办法》等法律、法规、规章,结合本市实际情况,制定本规定。

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Rengel, A. (2013). Privacy in the 21st Century. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. 

Shimpach, S. (2011). Viewing. In W. Editor (Ed.), The Handbook of Media Audiences(pp. 62-85). ProQuest Ebook Central.

Suzor, N. P. (2019). Lawless: The secret rules that govern our digital lives. Cambridge University Press.

Weibo Official. (2023, October). The foreground page displays of top “self-media” account’s real name.站方将于近期引导社会时事、军事、财经、法律、医疗等专业领域100万粉丝以上的“自媒体”账号填写实名信息,后续将逐步扩大到相关领域50万粉丝以上的“自媒体”账号,经用户同意后进行前台实名展示%E3%80%82%202.,普通用户及以个人日常生活分享为主的领域账号不受前台实名展示的影响%E3%80%82%203.%20用户填写实名信息后,将在个人资料页展示用户的真实姓名%E3%80%82

Weibo data center. (2024, Febrary 5). The Report of Top Search Topic Trends on Weibo 2023.微博发布《2023年微博热搜趋势报告》。,报告显示,高考、两会、巴以冲突等社会大事件引爆全民高度关注;封神第一部、长相思、乘风2023成为上榜次数最多的影视综艺作品;下半年, 25个垂直领域共计6412位博主参与热搜垂直内容创作,四季度垂直流量相比二季度增长47%。

[1] Sina Weibo, WeChat, TikTok, Kuaishou, Bilibili, The Little Red Book, Baidu Baijiahao. These are the mainstream platforms in terms of sharing information, producing content and socializing.

[2] Weibo CEO as well as the top influencer on Weibo, being the first group to display real name on the foreground page.

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