China has unveiled tighter Internet controls, legalizing the deletion of posts that are deemed to contain "illegal" information and requiring service providers to report such posts to the authorities.
"Service providers are required to instantly stop the transmission of illegal information once it is spotted and take relevant measures, including removing the information and saving records, before reporting to supervisory authorities," the rules state.
Of course, China has long censored online content, even going so far as blocking hot-button words and phrases, but the new rules mean government monitors can delete pages whose content they find objectionable and to require users to sign into certain sites with their real names.
Chinese officials said the measure is necessary to prevent the spread of false information, but the move is being interpreted as a way for the government to curtail online complaints about government corruption. It's also a sign that the government under new leader Xi Jinping may not be as reform-minded as some had hoped.
"When people exercise their rights, including the right to use the Internet, they must do so in accordance with the law and constitution, and not harm the legal rights of the state, society ... or other citizens," said Li Fei, deputy head of parliament's legislative affairs committee, in a news conference.
The crackdown on online conversations comes at an interesting time for China's own Internet scene. Weibo, China's Twitter, brims with chatter about government officials and their perceived wrongdoings. Weibo outcries have even resulted in the firings of officials and other authority figures.
And while Chinese authorities are tightening controls on what other users post on Weibo and other sites, they themselves are making greater use of the microblogging platform.
The recently released 2012 Sina Government Weibo Report found that the number of government accounts on Weibo has risen to more than 60,000, with authorities tweeting everything from useful public safety information to thoughts on educational issues, reports Chinese media monitor Danwei.
The report predicts that microblogging by government officials will only increase and become more routine in 2013. In that case, it will be interesting to see if the government attempts to further control the online conversation even as they dive deeper into it.