China ID authentication
China is restricting internet speech rights with new rules — Representational ImageGREG BAKER/AFP/Getty Images

China's cyber watchdog has announced new regulations to keep track of individuals posting comments on online communities and discussion forums.

Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), the authority that regulates cyberspace activities in the country, has imposed new rules in a bid to extend its grip on internet speech rights. The CAC is making it mandatory for all internet giants to authenticate their users' identities from October 1. All internet message board providers will have to maintain real-ID records of every individual who posts online. The move is part of China's first cyber security law which came into force in June.

"For users who have not given identifying information, providers of online communities may not allow posting of any kind," the new regulations say. The announcement notes that online platforms should not host content prohibited under national regulations and investigate any user who they think could be using a fake name. The government has also stressed the importance of retaining these records for future inspections.

A Chinese government official was quoted as saying: "Online comments give rise to false rumours, filthy language and illegal messages, which damage the online environment."

Critics say the efforts at ramping up free speech restrictions and censorship are actually directed at silencing online political opposition ahead of the 19th National Congress later in 2017.

China had previously asked internet companies to authenticate real-identities of their users, but the rules were not implemented back then. Messaging services, however, already have some rules in place for real-name authentication.

Prior to these regulations, the Xi Jinping-led government launched a crackdown on VPNs — the most preferred technique of dodging censorship — and an investigation into the country's three largest internet companies - Tencent, Baidu and Sina Weibo - for not controlling user-posted content that "harms the social order".