On November 16, 2022, the Cyberspace Administration of China issued the revised Administrative Provisions on Comment Threading Services on the Internet (2022) ("Regulations"), and the Regulations shall come into effect on December 15, 2022. This 16-Article Regulations expands the application scope of the supervision and specifies the management responsibilities, relevant internal control obligations of network operators and service providers, the protection of users' rights, and transparency requirements of the operators.

Compared to the old version, the Regulations has the following significant changes:

1. Expanding the Scope of the Services of Online Comment Threading

The Regulations replaces "other communication platforms with news and public opinion attributes and social mobilization functions" with "other website platforms with public opinion attributes or social mobilization capabilities," deletes the restriction of "news attributes," which expands the scope of application to all internet-based information services with the functions of online comment threading.

Combined with the Provisions on the Security Assessment of Internet-based Information Services with Attribute of Public Opinions or Capable of Social Mobilization, internet-based information services with attribute of public opinions or capable of social mobilization shall include the following two circumstances:

  • Providing such information services as BBS, blogs, microblogs, chat rooms, communication groups, public accounts, short videos, online streaming, information sharing and mini programs, etc., or setting up corresponding functions; and
  • Providing other Internet-based information services that offer channels for expressing public opinions or that can mobilize the public to carry out specific activities.

In addition, the Regulations changes "post" to "comment" and includes "likes" in the scope of the services of online comment threading. While meeting the definition of "online comment threading," the Regulations fully considers the new form of network interaction.

2. Specifying the Real-name System Requirements

The Regulations specifies the way to certify the real identity information of registered users based on the principle of "using the real name at the back end and using an alias or real name voluntarily at the front end":

  • For natural person users, identity certification can be based on mobile phone numbers and ID numbers.
  • For enterprise users, identity certification can be based on the way of the uniform social credit codes.

At the same time, the Regulations prohibits providing services of online comment threading to users who impersonate organizations or other people's identity information.

3. Aligning the personal information protection of users with the Personal Information Protection Law

The Regulations absorbs the provisions of the Personal Information Protection Law, adjusts and refines the personal information protection requirements, and specifies the obligations to inform the personal information subjects, including the purpose of handling, the method of handling, the type and retention period of the handled personal information and other matters.

4. Adding New Internal Control Obligations for the Management of Services of Online Comment Threading

The Regulations adds the internal control obligations of the services providers of online comment threading, such as establishing information security management systems like reporting acceptance, so as to timely detect and deal with unlawful and detrimental information; developing and employing information security management technology for online comment threading to enhance the ability to deal with unlawful and detrimental information; and strengthening review training for online comment threading to improve the professional attainment of the reviewing editors.

5. Optimizing the Content of User Agreement

In addition to specifying the service and management rules for online comment threading in the service agreement, the service providers of online comment threading should also specify the rights and obligations of the service providers and the users in terms of permitted authorization of posting and management responsibilities of online comment threading. For the producers and operators of official accounts, the service agreement should also specify their management authority and corresponding responsibilities for online comment threading, and urge them to fulfill their management obligations effectively.

6. Refining the Necessary Measures and Management Process that the Platform Can Take

The Regulations refines the necessary measures and management processes that the platform can take:

  • For comment threading service users who publish unlawful and detrimental information, the Regulations adds the punishment of "prohibition of re-registration" based on the 2017 Regulations.
  • For the producers and operators of official accounts who fail to fulfill their management obligations, which leads to the circulation of unlawful and detrimental information on the online comment threading, the Regulations specifies that the platform shall take such measures such as warning, deleting information, suspending the function of comment threading until the permanent closure of online comment threading area, restricting account functions, suspending account updates, closing the account, prohibiting re-registration, save relevant records, and promptly report to the Cyberspace Administration Authorities.

7. Added the Obligations of the Operators of Official Accounts

The producers and operators of official accounts shall undertake to review and manage the content of the accounts' online comment information. Once unlawful and detrimental information is detected, the producers and operators of official accounts shall take necessary measures such as reporting and punishment.

At the same time, in order to ensure that the producers and operators of public accounts fulfill their obligation to review and manage the content of online comment threading, the services providers of online comment threading should conduct credit assessment on the management of online comment threading of producers and operators of public accounts, and then, according to the nature of the public account entities, credit assessment level, etc., reasonably set administrative authorities, and provide relevant technical supports, such as releasing the administrative authorities to producers and operators of public accounts for reporting, hiding or deleting unlawful and detrimental information comments, discretionarily closing the accounts' online comment threading function.

8. More Detailed Supervision on Internet Water Armey

The services providers of online comment threading, the comment threading service users and the producers and operators of official accounts shall not infringe on the legitimate rights and interests of others or public interests, seek unlawful interests, maliciously interfere in the normal order of comment threading to mislead the public opinion by publishing, deleting, recommending online comment threading and using software, hiring commercial entities and employees to disseminate information and other means tempering the presentation of comment information.

9. Improve the User Compliant System

The services providers of online comment threading shall establish and improve the user complaint system for the comment threading service users. Suppose the comment threading service users have objections to the comment thread information being handled. In that case, they have the right to appeal to the comment threading service providers, and the comment threading service providers shall verify and handle the case according to the user service agreement.

10. Clarifying the Regular Supervision System of the Cyberspace Administration Authorities

The cyberspace administration authorities at all levels shall establish and improve the supervision and management system that combines daily and regular inspections, and lawfully supervise and inspect online comment threading services.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.