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A Weibo Experience – Lucy Ronald, Sam Cavanagh and Tim Williams.

 

Sina Weibo (Pronounced way-bo) is a microblogging platform in China with over 222 Million users (Raponza, K. 2011). Weibo is the microblogging platform throughout China, holding a significant market following. The popularity of Weibo can be attributed to the 2009 Ürümqi Riots where the Chinese government blocked access to non-Chinese social platforms such as Twitter and Facebook (Blanchard, B. 2009), allowing for Chinese platforms to become centralised and capitalise on the opportunity within the market (Tong, Y. Lei, S. 2016).

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Due to study and career involvement in journalism and marketing the interest in Chinese social media was the driving factor for our digital artefact, due to the interest by western organisations in China’s expanding markets. Primarily we attempted to utilise RenRen the equivalent of Facebook, and 51.com which we struggled to graspe whether it was a gaming site or perhaps a dating site (or maybe both?). Various complications and restrictions imposed upon foreign users and organisations engagement on Chinese social platforms by the state resulted in the absent opportunity to experience RenRen.

Weibo is comparable to that of Twitter and is open to foreign engagement on the platform. However Weibo still implements strict internal censorship guidelines, such as the manual removal of any sensitive political comments with 30 per cent of censorship occurring within 5 – 30 minutes (Zhu et al. 2016). As Twitter users this was an opportunity for us to experience through our own knowledge of the western platform.  

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Our capacity as users was limited from the beginning, as all communication must be processed through Google translate prior to engagement. For example, the first interaction was translating a video of a dog:

只成精的泰迪, 当被主人嫌弃衣服太脏后, 不开心的它选择了

According to Google Translate:

‘Only into a fine Teddy, when the owner dislike clothes dirty, unhappy it chose’

Due to consuming content primarily within the Australian filter bubble, it was difficult to gauge an understanding of what topics may be trending throughout China. According to Chiu et al. (2012) China has the most active social network, with over 300 million users, all almost exclusively Chinese, engaging in Mandarin at one moment. Therefore we utilised the source ‘What’s on Weibo’ in an attempt to provide insight into how a foreign individual may interact and produce content. Furthermore, just like western platforms, we followed, commented and shared content all through the process of Google translate.

This however came to a halt when Sam’s IP address was flagged, or as we assume to be flagged, by the Sina Weibo organisation. This resulted in the freezing of the account and failing to recognise the verification number in order to retrieve the account. According to Gallo, F. T. (2012) microblogging has come under intense scrutiny by the Chinese government. While throughout Western countries we express a degree of free speech, internet censorship is widespread throughout China. However while this may be argued as a form of state control we believe that there is an underlying philosophy that influences this.

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The three major schools of thought in China is Taoism, the belief in living in harmony with the Tao (the way), Confucianism, as a framework for a way of life, otherwise the importance of living in social harmony (Yao, X. 200). Finally Legalism which demonstrates the framework for the ideological and intellectual aspects of Chinese society. Legalism often is considered to be a progressive school of thought (Pines, Yuri. 2014).  

While the Chinese government enforces restrictions Weibo remains to be one of the more ‘open’ forums. Gallo, F. T. (2012) states that an unnamed Sina Executive illustrates the need for ‘balance.’ What China has done is produce a distinct response to the empowerment that the internet provides users, viewing it in a holistic manner or an organic part of society, rather than its own entity. Therefore reflecting upon the Chinese philosophies is that the reason our Weibo account was frozen, I am perceived by the Chinese state to be an entity that harms the ‘social harmony’ of Chinese society. Therefore I am unhealthy for Weibo.

References:

Blanchard, B. (2009) China tightens Web screws after Xinjiang riot, Reuters, viewed 20.10.16 <http://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-xinjiang-internet-idUSTRE5651K420090706.

Chiu, C. Ip, C. Silverman, A. (2012) Understanding social media in China, Marketing and Sales Practice, McKinsey Quartley, viewed 22.10.16 <http://asia.udp.cl/Informes/2012/chinamedia.pdf>

Gallo, F. T. (2012) The Reality of Chinese Microblogging, Harvard Business Review, viewed 22.10.16 <https://hbr.org/2012/10/the-reality-of-chinese-microblogging>

Pines, Yuri. (2014) Legalism in Chinese Philosophy, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, viewed 22.10.16 <http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/chinese-legalism/#EpiLegChiHis>

Raponza, K. (2011) China’s Weibos vs US’s Twitter: And the Winner Is? Forbes, viewed 21.10.16 <http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2011/05/17/chinas-weibos-vs-uss-twitter-and-the-winner-is/#5162494e646f>

Tong, Y. Lei, S. (2016) War of Position and Microblogging in China, Journal of Contempory China, 22:80, 292-311, viewed 24.10.16

Yao, X. (2012) An Introduction to Confucianism, Cambridge University Press, viewed 23.10.16

Zhu, T. Phipps, D. Pridgen, A. Crandall, J. R. Wallach, D. S. (2013) The Velocity of Censorship: High-Fidelity Detection of Microblog Post Deletions, Cornell University, viewed 26.10.16 <https://arxiv.org/abs/1303.0597>

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