China to punish internet users for ‘liking’ posts in crackdown after zero-Covid protests

By Laura He

Internet users in China will soon be held liable for liking posts deemed illegal or harmful, sparking fears that the world’s second largest economy plans to control social media like never before. China’s internet watchdog is stepping up its regulation of cyberspace as authorities intensify their crackdown on online dissent amid growing public anger against the country’s stringent Covid restrictions.

The new rules come into force from Dec. 15, as part of a new set of guidelines published by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC) earlier this month. The CAC operates under the Central Cyberspace Affairs Commission chaired by leader Xi Jinping. The new rules have gained attention on social media in recent days and will take effect just weeks after an unprecedented wave of public anger started sweeping the country. From Beijing to Shanghai, thousands of demonstrators protested in more than a dozen cities over the weekend, demanding an end to the country’s draconian Covid restrictions and calling for political freedoms.

Internet users are taking screenshots of content related to the protests to preserve them and using coded references in messages to evade censors, while the authorities are scrambling to scrub the internet of dissent.

The regulation is an updated version of one previously published in 2017. For the first time, it states that “likes” of public posts must be regulated, along with other types of comments. Public accounts must also actively vet every comment under their posts….