How online registration has fared elsewhere

IMPLEMENTING real-name registration laws is touted as one way to raise the standard of online debate, but the experiences of South Korea and China show that this comes with problems.

South Korea is believed to be the first country to introduce such a law, after the suicide of popular actress Choi Jin Sil, 39, who had become a target of cyber bullying.

Online gossips alleged that she was a loan shark who had hounded another star to commit suicide over a debt. They also harangued her over her bitter divorce and for being a single mother of two.

When she was found dead in her apartment in late 2008, it ignited a national debate over cyber bullying.

That ended in politicians passing a law which required netizens to disclose their real names when signing up for websites with more than 100,000 visitors a day.

To confirm their identities, users had to submit their national identification numbers, which are assigned to Korean citizens at birth.

But last year, South Korea's constitutional court overturned the law on the grounds that it restricted individuals' right to free speech.

The lack of anonymity discouraged people from criticising influential groups for fear of reprisal, said the court.

The law had not had its intended effect either, the court noted, as the amount of negative content online did not drop significantly after it was introduced.

A study by the country's national media regulations agency found that malicious comments had fallen by only 0.9 of a percentage point a year after the rule went into force.

The reversal also came amid fears over identity theft: In 2011, hackers reportedly stole the personal data that

35 million users - 70 per cent of the country's population - had used to sign up to websites.

The data included their real names, mobile phone numbers and national identification numbers.

While South Korea discarded its law, China in the same year went ahead with its own real-name registration system.

Microblogging platforms such as Sina Weibo had to ensure that their users registered for accounts with the name on their government-issued identification card.

This was ostensibly to combat online rumours about the official abuse of power in the wake of disgraced politician Bo Xilai's scandal.

But implementation has been patchy at best so far. Sites have said that verifying identification details is a huge task, given that their accounts can number more than 600 million.

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