It’s getting harder to fake your location in the Chinese digital space with China’s major social platforms stepping up efforts to make Internet users’ IP territory available in the public domain. The IP display feature has been rolled out on Weibo (China’s biggest microblogging site) with users’ IP locations visible both on their profile page and in their comments on others’ posts.
It is understood that locations of domestic users can be as accurate to province or region, and for users outside China, only the country of residence would be shown. The feature cannot be disabled by users.
After Weibo’s move on 28 April, Douyin (Chinese TikTok) followed suit, enabling IP display on users’ homepages on 29 April. Such a feature is reported to soon arrive on other platforms including Douyin’s rival short video app Kuaishou, public subscriptions on WeChat (China’s most used instant messaging app), Xiaohongshu (China’s most popular lifestyle-sharing platform), news and information platform Toutiao, as well as Zhihu (China’s answer to Quora).
Earlier in March, Weibo first introduced the “real geographic location” amidst the growing occurrence of fake news around the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict. Although Chinese social media is not required by law to show users’ real locations, the collective efforts are made in a bid “to curb the spread of misinformation, especially in the event of hot issues, and therefore, to ensure a healthy online environment”, according to announcements published by platforms who opted in.
These actions soon sparked heated discussions on Chinese social media. Public reactions to the new feature have so far been mixed, with potential privacy violations being the main concern for some netizens. Moreover, the effectiveness of such a measure is also faced with questions as some have already found that using a VPN (virtual private network) service could be an easy way to hide one’s real location.
Whilst the measure is functioning as a deterrent to minimise online misinformation by enhancing self-discipline and public scrutiny, caution should be taken by platforms when it comes to the potential conflict between adopting such a feature and safeguarding users’ personal information. In addition, continuous efforts are also expected to be followed to ensure an effective operation in the long run.