Sina Weibo + Censorship

As most people are aware the Communist Party of China governs China, and as part of this regime “The Great Firewall of China” heavily censors the Internet in China. In terms of social media, this firewall has entirely blocked any web 2.0 site that originates outside of China and simultaneously the Chinese government has managed to clone each site for its country’s use. As Michael Anti states in his TEDGlobal talk, “On the one hand, he wants to satisfy people’s need of a social network, which is very important; people really love social networking. But on the other hand, they want to keep the server in Beijing so they can access the data any time they want”.

Sina Weibo is the clone of Twitter and was founded just one month after Twitter was blocked in China, and just like Twitter it has become the newest media platform enabling people to interact with eachother in a public sphere (Anti 2012). If it hasn’t been on Weibo than it hasn’t happened. However there are some limitations to this given that the government monitors and censors content on Weibo, which is achieved in many ways. The first was the attempt to fully implement of the ‘real name’ policy in March 2012, which requires users to put in their full name, phone number and identification number and enables the government better control over what people say due to being able to track them down easier (Robertson 2012, Ghedin 2013). When I signed up to Sina Weibo I was also required to put in my phone number, however due to my name being English I was suggested names that contained Chinese characters, of which I chose Melissa精彩, which means ‘Melissa Wonderful’ in English, implying that I somewhat bypassed the ‘real name’ policy because of my English name. I was still able to sign up without an I.D number, implying that the strength of the ‘real name’ policy is still rather weak. Interestingly, Facebook has also now implemented a ‘real name’ policy, however it only succeeded to discriminate against those in the LGBT community (Montgomery 2014).

The second way that the Chinese government and Sina Weibo have restricted the free speech of its users is through introducing a ‘user contract’ in May 2012 that runs on a points system (Russell 2012). As a user I was given 80 points when I signed up, and have a maximum of 100 points according to Russell, which will be retracted for bad behaviour, and once you have reached 0 points your account will be deleted. Upon finding out about what the points system was for, I tried to search for the user contract, but I was unable to find it. Instead I have found a translated version to read here. My inability to find it may have been due to my language barrier, either I was given the option to read it and didn’t realise or it does not appear on the translated page. The user contract contains several clauses, many of which restrict what can be posted on Sina Weibo, although Michael Anti points out that Chinese users have found ways around this by using memes, puns and humour, which would explain why in my experience of my home page that most things trending seem to appear to be jokes or humour. http://blockedonweibo.tumblr.com is a Tumblr page that has been developed to track what is blocked on the site for a Western audience.

Sources:

Anti, 2012, Behind The Great Firewall of China, online video, June, TED Talks, viewed 5/10/14, <https://www.ted.com/talks/michael_anti_behind_the_great_firewall_of_china>

Ghedin, G, 2013, Understanding Sina Weibo: Hashtags, VIP Hastags and More, Digital In The Round, article, 4 July, viewed 6/10/14, http://www.digitalintheround.com/sina-weibo-hashtags-vips/

Montgomery, K, 2014, ‘Facebook Apologizes For Discriminatory “Real Name” Policy’, Valleywag, 10 January, viewed 6/10/14, http://valleywag.gawker.com/sources-facebook-to-apologize-for-discriminatory-real-1641078942

Robertson, A, 2012, ‘Sina Weibo users near March 16th deadline to verify identity’The Verge, 12 March, viewed 6/10/14, http://www.theverge.com/2012/3/12/2865317/sina-weibo-beijing-government-verify-account-identity-deadline

Russell, J, 2012, ‘Sina Weibo to introduce ‘user contract’ on May 28 as China’s microblog crackdown continues [Updated]’, TNW, 9 May, viewed 6/10/14, http://thenextweb.com/asia/2012/05/09/sina-weibo-to-introduce-user-contract-on-may-28-as-chinas-microblog-crackdown-continues/

 

Advertisements

6 comments

  1. Government control lot of things in China. Many scene in movies that view or portray China or Chinese negatively would be censored. For example, a scene in Men in Black 3 where they were erasing memories of a group of Chinese and a scene where villain aliens disguise themselves as a Chinese restaurant worker were censored in China. Very interesting post. Even though China do surveillance on their citizen a lot, other countries such as U.S. also do the same. One of the example would be NSA surveillance which explain nicely in this video, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aGmiw_rrNxk

    Like

  2. Hi,

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post and found it uncanny as I have recently heard about Sina Weibo and wanted to look into it! I wondered what was different enough about it that the government hadn’t removed it from access! I found the point system so strange and yet with some merit, quite a good idea! I wonder what type of information one would have to upload or what type of actions would warrant loss of points. I can imagine speaking badly of the government would warrant deletion of an account. I will take a look at the tumblr account you posted which states all of this data!! I’m sure it will be rather funny!

    I do not agree with the ‘authentication of name’ concept online, as I feel we each sign up for these accounts for our own reasons. I do not condone trolling or other negative behaviour, though having your full name on social networking sites can prove detrimental at times itself. I had a personal experience with someone trying to ‘steal my identity,’ where I found that they were posting my images and so on.. I changed my name on Facebook because of this.

    Interesting post! I really enjoyed it!

    Like

  3. I came across this article on ABC’s The Drum recently (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-04-04/larkin-caving-to-insidious-chinese-censorship/5367068). In it, an author talks about how Chinese printers refused to print his story without him changing certain words and terms. He refused, and his story was dropped from the novel. His novel was not to be distributed in the Chinese market, only printed in the nation. Considering this, perhaps Chinese censorship is not merely confined to within their borders. As Michael Anti points out in the video you posted, China is part of BRIC and is becoming a heavy weight in the international economy. This brings with it, it seems, the power to push their censorship laws onto the wider community. The author in the article points out that his publishers did little to negate the situation perhaps because the printing was so cheap. Maybe this is why China’s censorship is able to go unquestioned by other nations.

    Like

  4. I find it kind of funny that they want all the same things for China as the rest of the world in terms of social media, this gives them tools for self expression among their peers but they still can’t quite do that. It just feels a bit contradictory.

    Like

  5. I see so many parallels between the way China monitors and manages the digital landscape in that country with the focus of my research, North Korea. However, China has definitely progressed in a positive direction in the last decade in the way in opens the digital highway in and out of its culture. North Korea has not done this either out of the fear that its society will receive a wake up call about the complete subjugation of their rights or west will corrupt the sanctity of the North Korean culture. Either way the digital rights of the citizens of that society are being suppressed through control and poverty.

    Like

  6. This makes me wonder just in general about how much of our content is monitored and/or controlled. I know that our information is used for marketing purposes and things of that nature and I find that invasive so I can’t imagine how the people in China must feel not being able to use certain sites or having these restrictions. I found this particular point quite disturbing, “Facebook has also now implemented a ‘real name’ policy, however it only succeeded to discriminate against those in the LGBT community.” With the progression of technology i wonder if down the track other countries will start having restrictions or if things like hacking will still happen. I think the whole concept of a government trying to control internet activity is insane and I also think we will always have people trying to find loop holes around it. It might be interesting to explore the restrictions or lack thereof in other cultures and countries and why that may be.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s