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Microblogs challenge China’s censorship | Healing Talks

Microblogs challenge China’s censorship

Chinese weibos

(Healingtalks) The Chinese microblog called Sina Weibo posted a disturbing short message about a high speed train that had slowed to a crawl. It was typed by a young girl with the handle Smm Miao. Within 5 days the message went viral.

Triggering tragedy

The train outside Wenzhou in coastal Zhejiang Province had rammed into another killing 39 people and injuring 192. In short order, China’s microblogs or weibos posted an astounding 26 million messages on the event embarrassed officials to explain how this could have happened.  It broke through the quiet of the Railways Ministry.

Attempts to control the Internet failing

This signal the weibos as a social force, despite attempts to control the Internet’s influence.

The government censors can not keep up with millions of tiny posts that spread far faster than censors can monitor. Their popularity also makes controlling them a difficult matter.

Train accident example

As state television was busy covering a murder story in Norway, Sina Weibo weighed in four minutes after the train accident. They reported the power outage, the collision, and stories of children crying and no attendant – and the need for blood transfusions. Within nine minutes over a 100,000 repostings occurred and the local hospital was flooded with calls for blood. All the while, the state media was silent. Then government officials ordered local attorneys not to accept cases from victim families without government permission. After the microblogs exposed this, the order with withdrawn with an apology. Lastly officials tried to bury evidence of the train, including the first car of the oncoming train. When accused of a cover up, the train was unearthed and analyzed.

chinese microblog revolution

Signs of a microblog or weibo revolution

This a clear sign of the rising power of microblogs, as we have also seen in the Middle East and now even in the US – influencing Congress and elections.

“I call it the microblogging revolution,” Zhan Jiang, a professor of international journalism and communications at Beijing Foreign Studies University. “In the last year, microbloggers, especially Sina and Tencent, have played more and more a major role in coverage, especially breaking news.”

Domination by two sites

  • Sina Holdings Ltd.’s Sina Weibo has 140 million users and who are more interested in current events. 
  • Tencent Inc.’s weibo hosts 200 million users and who appear more interested in socializing.

They are similar to our Twitter accounts in that posts are limited to 140 characters but can also include photos and files.The Chinese use these instead of Twiter and Facebook which are blocked. The govenment has not shut down the native microblogs which many see as a steam valve to relieve public frustrations in a safely venting way.

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Based in part on an article by Jonathan Ansfield for the NY Times


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