The Chinese government has long been pushing people to use their real names online. However, it’s now ready to make that an absolute requirement. Starting March 1st, residents will have to register internet accounts (including on blogs, chat services and social networks) using their real names. They won’t have to display a real name, but they can’t create a completely anonymous ID. It’ll also be illegal to impersonate other people or organizations, and neither your avatar nor your nickname can include illegal content — including something that “subverts state power” or promotes “rumormongering.”
Ostensibly, this is to quash accounts spreading rumors by posing as official outlets. It would tackle a problem that Baidu (which hosts forums), Weibo (Twitter-style microblogging) and others have with duplicates and other bogus identities. However, there’s also no question that the requirements are meant to discourage political dissent. You probably won’t criticize an authoritarian government in public if officials can easily find out that you’re responsible, after all. While life in China might not change much on a practical level (the government is already quick to censor online content), true privacy is going to be that much more elusive.