By Xinhua writer Wang Aihua
BEIJING, Dec. 28 (Xinhua) -- China took a big step forward Friday by adopting rules on the Internet that have the same effects of a law, ushering in a new era of cyberspace management.
The rules approved by the country's top legislature came as China's Internet users, which include over 500 million people from all walks of life, have called for protection against rampant rumors, fraud and invasions of privacy.
Compared with previous public expectations, the rules are quite moderate, as they mainly require Internet users to use their real names when signing web access agreements with service providers.
However, the move still bears some milestone significance, as it is the first major effort by Chinese authorities to protect users' personal information online via forceful legal tools.
And it is unlikely to be the last.
Laws and regulations governing the Internet are just like those enforced in the real world, because the rights of Chinese citizens are abused by irresponsible behavior online. Better regulating the virtual world can help build a better real world.
But the path to Internet regulation is not smooth, and it is exactly where the country's top leadership can best use its wisdom.
The new rules, for instance, have triggered debate over whether the identity management policy can preserve users' right to free speech or whether it will discourage them from freely voicing criticism out of fears of retaliation.
One major concern in this regard is that it may hamper Internet users' efforts to expose graft and corruption among government officials, a widely praised phenomenon that has led to several high-ranking officials getting sacked this year.
These fears are not unreasonable, but exaggerating them would be an insult to the courage of today's Chinese Internet users, who are both more aware of free speech and braver in expressing themselves, whether anonymously or not.
Meanwhile, only corrupt practices and deeds exposed online by real-name web users can be taken seriously by official disciplinary organs. Such actions exposed by anonymous users could be taken as practical jokes or malicious attacks.
Now that the new rules are in place, authorities should ensure they are strictly followed, not only by web users but also by service providers, who must guarantee the protection of users' information and prevent it from being used to abuse or silence users.
Only with user-friendly management, obtainable through the concerted efforts of all regulatory and operating bodies involved, can the Internet best serve the real lives of Chinese people -- and the expectations now run high.
(Xinhua writer Huang Xin contributed to the story.)