When the Chinese government mandated earlier this week that anyone who uploads an online video must also post their full name, the rationale seemed reasonable enough: "To prevent vulgar content, base art forms, exaggerated violence and sexual content in Internet video having a negative effect on society," China's State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television wrote on its website, according to Reuters.
But the current state of online video in China belies that seemingly simple motive.
"More and more Chinese, especially youth, get their news from the Internet rather than say, the flagship evening news program on state-broadcaster CCTV," Sarah Cook, a senior research analyst at international watchdog organization Freedom House, told The Huffington Post. "Many trust the information in online videos more than they trust state media, especially in cases when the video shows official misconduct, corruption or police brutality."
According to Cook and others, including Christopher Walker, International Forum director for the National Endowment for Democracy, a rash of politically embarrassing "vigilante videos" posted by anonymous whistleblowers prompted the real-name registration policy.
Probably the best-known Chinese video posted anonymously is of Yan Linkun, the deputy chairman of state-owned Yunnan Mining Corporation, vandalizing an airport after missing his flight in 2013. WATCH IT HERE:
China's real-name registration policy for online videos, Cook said, will have a "chilling effect" on vigilante action and political discourse in the People's Republic. Other critics, like Walker and CNET's Dara Kerr, agree.
English-language Chinese trend aggregator ChinaSmack archives particularly popular or contentious videos of official abuse and corruption, uploaded by Chinese users under pseudonyms like "Rallying Cry Of The Grassroots."
Browse ChinaSmack for a while, and you'll come across endless videos of officials, major and minor, caught in salacious acts. You'll also see Chengguan ("urban management police") brutalizing peddlers and temporary workers.
Perhaps even more frightening to government officials is the Chinese phenomena of renrou sousou yinqing or "human flesh search," where vigilantes work together online to try and identify people depicted in videos (think Reddit hunting the Boston bomber.)
In one notorious case in 2006, an anonymous user of Chinese video site Mop posted a video of a woman stabbing a kitten to death with her high heel. Outraged commentators quickly mobilized, and proceeded to identify and harass the video's kitten-crushing woman -- eventually ensuring she lost her job as a government employee.
Those who post media aimed at China's "human flesh search engine" often do so anonymously: The phenomenon has come under fire as a form of populist harassment similar to the hacktivist group Anonymous's infamous "doxing" tactics. But in a country where populism still finds little outlet, "human flesh searches" have frequently been used to expose corrupt officials: those like Yang Dacai, callous chief of the Shaanxi Safety Supervision Bureau, who was convicted of bribe-taking and corruption after a successful flesh search mobilized against him, and Lin Jiaxiang, a party secretary of Shenzhen Maritime Administration, who was fired from his position when a flesh search linked him to a video in which he appeared to attempt to molest an 11-year-old girl.