Non-students barred from using popular university chat room

Nailene Chou – South China Morning Post

Published 18 March 2005 – Copyright The South China Morning Post
The mainland’s most-popular campus chat room,
Beijing’s Tsinghua University, has been closed to
non-student visitors in the latest move to clamp down
on the free exchange of ideas on internet forums.
Operators of the chat room at the Shuimu Tsinghua
website (www.smth.org) on Wednesday posted a message
saying that against their wishes, non-students would
no longer be able to log on.
Maintained by tech-savvy budding scientists, the chat
room has become renowned for its intellectual debate
and social commentary, as well as exchanges on the
latest information technology, since its launch in
1996.
The operators added that non-student visitors had
greatly enriched the chat room.
“Off-campus visitors have been part of the community
and we will not forget them,” they said.
Many of the chat room’s frequent visitors were former
students of Tsinghua University.
In terms of popularity, the chat room was on a par
with Peking University’s Yitahutu, which boasted
30,000 users before it was shut in September.
The policing of campus-related web sites was stepped
up after the Ministry of Information Industry released
guidelines on the regulation of non-profit activities
on the internet.
From Sunday, chat room operators and bloggers will be
held liable for any “objectionable content”.
Sources said the Ministry of Education had also
weighed in with a circular on strengthening “political
thought” at universities, recommending the internet as
a powerful tool in this process.
The first stage of the crackdown on the Tsinghua chat
room required all users to register under their true
identities by Tuesday of this week.
Although they were still permitted to log on under an
alias, the users’ personal details were lodged with
the operator.
Tsinghua had been chosen as a model for implementing
the procedure, the sources said.
Analysts noted the Communist Party’s Propaganda
Department had been beefing up operations at “Office
1106”, which monitors cyberspace for any subversive
trends, since last year.
Portal operators are now required to submit daily
reports on public opinion and social trends, while the
print media has been prohibited from using content
posted at weblogs.
Weblog portals have discouraged their users from
alluding to politics and other sensitive topics.

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