Microblogging in China
|Chinese||微博客 or 微型博客|
Weibo (微博) is the Chinese word for "microblog". It refers to mini-blogging services in China, including social chat sites and platform sharing. Weibo uses a format similar to its American counterpart Twitter with key difference being that it is used almost exclusively by Chinese language speakers. Internet users can set up real-time information sharing communities individually, and upload and update information in 140 character blocks.
Sina Weibo is the most visited such site in China. Sina has used the domain name weibo.com for the service since April 2011. Because of the site's popularity and domain name, "Weibo" is often used generically to refer to Sina Weibo.
Weibos are a major source of commentary on a wide range of topics. After the high-speed Wenzhou train collision in 2011 in which 40 people died, online posting played a key role in breaking the news and serving as an outlet for expressing disapproval of the government.
In 2012, there were 309 million people microblogging in China.
"Wei boke" (微博客) and "weixing boke" (微型博客), commonly abbreviated as "weibo" (微博), are Chinese words for "microblog". A China-based microblogging service often names itself a weibo by putting it after the name of the service (e.g. Sina Weibo). A similar word "围脖" (pinyin: Wéibó; literally: "scarf around the neck") is used as Internet slang for "weibo".
Fanfou (饭否) is the earliest notable weibo service. It was launched in Beijing on May 12, 2007 by the co-founder of Xiaonei (now Renren) Wang Xing (王兴). The website's layout, API, and mode of use was highly similar to Twitter, which was created earlier in 2006. Fanfou's users increased from 0.3 million to 1 million in the first half of 2009. The users included HP China, the Southern Weekly, artist Ai Weiwei, writer Lian Yue (连岳) and TV commentator Liang Wendao (梁文道).
After the July 2009 Ürümqi riots, the Chinese government shut down most of the domestic weibo services, including Fanfou and Jiwai. Many popular non China-based microblogging services such as Twitter, Facebook and Plurk have been blocked since then. Sina.com's CEO Charles Chao considered it to be an opportunity.
Two other Chinese Internet portals, Sohu and NetEase, launched the beta versions of their weibo sites almost simultaneously, on January 20, 2010. On January 30, another Internet portal Tencent closed its weibo service, Taotao, and started its new weibo service Tencent Weibo on March 5, 2010. Building on the large number of its instant messaging service QQ's users, Tencent Weibo later attracted more registered users than Sohu Weibo and NetEase Weibo. The public beta versions of NetEase Weibo and Sohu Weibo were launched on March 20 and April 7, 2010, respectively.
All these weibos, provided by the Chinese Internet giants, used the subdomain "t.example.com", such as t.sina.com.cn for Sina Weibo, t.qq.com for Tencent Weibo, t.sohu.com for Sohu Weibo, t.163.com for NetEase Weibo. On 7 April 2011, the leader of the weibo services Sina Weibo started to use an independent domain name weibo.com acquired earlier, in an attempt to build up its own brand.
Sohu Weibo and NetEase Weibo were suspended between July 9–12 and July 13–15, 2010, respectively. Since then, all of the Chinese weibo services have attached a note of "beta version" to their title logos. Commentators said that Sohu Weibo and NetEase Weibo were being "reorganized" by Chinese administrators. The weibo services were not officially approved, so they could only be operated as a "beta version".
Some closed weibos were re-opened under restrictions in 2009 or 2010, including Fanfou, which was re-launched in November 2010. Most of Fanfou's users never came back.
Before July 2009, Fanfou was the most influential weibo website. In February 2011, Tencent announced that its weibo registrations had exceeded 100 million. This threshold was officially passed by Sina Weibo in March 2011. However according to iResearch's report on March 30, 2011, Sina Weibo took a commanding lead over its competitors, with 56.5% of China's microblogging market based on active users, and 86.6% based on browsing time.
According to the China Internet Network Information Center, in the first half of 2011, Chinese weibo users increased from 63.11 million to 195 million. By July 2011, 40.2% Chinese Internet users and 34.0% Chinese mobile Internet users used weibo/microblogs. In Dec 2010, it had been, respectively, 13.8% and 15.5%.[Note 1]
Censorship and free speech
In July 2009, Chinese microblogs were severely curtailed when most of the domestic weibo services such as Fanfou were shut down. But it brought the birth of others, such as Sina Weibo, operated by large Chinese Internet companies. Sohu Weibo and NetEase Weibo were suspended in July 2010 under the order of the Chinese administrators. Weibo is now operated as a "beta version", enabling the user to circumvent prohibition.
Due to the Internet censorship in China, all of the China-based weibo services are now controlled by various self-censorship policies and methods. They usually have an automatically checked list of blacklisted keywords. Sometimes administrators monitor these manually. Posts on topics which are sensitive and forbidden in China (e.g. Human Rights, Liu Xiaobo) are deleted, and the user's account may be blocked.
Some scandals and controversies such as the Li Gang incident, were uncovered by weibo. After incidents such as the Wenzhou train collision and the 2010 Shanghai fire, criticism of the Chinese government increased on weibo.
Although weibo services have not always met the approval of the government, many Chinese officials have opened weibo accounts. An organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, the People's Daily, also launched its own People's Weibo (人民微博) in February 2010, with some governmental organizations and officials blogging on it.
Recent studies have shown that official microblogging has become a sophisticated e-government effort for social management, especially for local governments and state units. It has led to a gradual change in local government's social governance strategy and functional change from being a service provider to a 'service predictor'. The latter requires enhanced capabilities to deliver individualized services and institute state surveillance via commercial service providers. In doing so, government units are experimenting with ways of interaction and negotiation with the microblogging public and service providers in their attempt to improve social management and political legitimacy. Interestingly enough, this negotiation process also exposes and/or creates inter-governmental tensions, since local governments in China consist of distinct units with their own particular preferences and operation procedures.
The "Real Name" policy
Since 2011, there have been rumors that the government will institute a "Real Name" policy for Weibo users. Early in February 2012, China's four key weibo companies – Sina, Sohu, NetEase and Tencent – announced that March 16, 2012, was the deadline for users to adopt their real name identity.
The "Real Name" policy requires all users on Chinese weibos to register with the name on their government issued ID card. However, the user name that shows on their homepage doesn’t have to be their legal name. The Real Name Policy would assist the government in controlling speech and communication on the Internet, and would facilitate Internet censorship.
Although the regulation was supposed to take effect on March 16, 2012, the policy was not implemented. Many weibo users complained about this policy, and Sina Weibo started to censor posts that contain the phrase "real name registration" or any related terms on its services from March 19, 2012.
(directly translated from the official regulation)
|Several Regulations on Microblog Development and Administration Enacted by the Beijing Government |
1. For standardizing the microblog service and its development and management, maintaining the order of online communication, ensuring information securities, protecting the legitimate interest of the Internet information services sites and the microblog users, satisfying the public’s needs to Internet information, and promoting well-ordered development of the Internet, this regulation referred to the actual situation of the city and is enacted according to the “Telecommunications Regulations of the People's Republic of China”, the “Measures for the Administration of Internet Information Services” and other laws, legislations, and regulations.
2. All website firms developing microblog services within the city’s administrative area and all their microblog users ought to comply with this regulation.
3. The microblog development and management adheres to the principles of positive utilization, practical development, rightful administration, and security guarantee. It has positive impact on promoting microblog construction and use, as well as its service to the community.
4. The development of microblog services must comply with the constitution, laws, legislations, and regulations. It should propagate the socialist core value system and the advanced socialist culture, and serve to the establishment of a socialist harmonious society.
5. All rights reserved to the municipal government of Beijing to enact plans for microblog service and development, and to enact regulations on the total amount, structure and layout of the microblog service sites.
6. All microblog service sites within the city’s administration area must rightfully ask for permission from the department that is in charge of Internet information content before applying for a telecommunications business license or performing non-operational Internet information services filing procedures.
7. All microblog service sites must comply with relevant laws, legislations, regulations and the following rules:
8. All microblog service sites must establish and improve censorship regulations on information content, and regulate the creation, copy, publish and transmit of content on microblogging sites.
9. Any group or person who registers a microblog account and create, duplicate, publish or transmit information must use real identification information; must not use fake or others’ residence identification information, business registration information or organization code information to register a microblog account. Microblog service sites must ensure the authenticity of registered users’ information.
10. Any organization or person must not unlawfully use microblog to create, duplicate, publish or transmit information containing any content that:
11.The news administrative department of the municipal people’s government, the municipal public security bureau, the municipal department of telecommunication administration and the municipal department of Internet information content must work on microblog development and administration in accordance with their respective responsibilities.
12. The Association of Online Media, the Internet Industry Association, the Communication Industry Association and other industry organizations must establish and improve the self-regulation in the microblog industry, guide the establishment and improvement of microblog service regulations, and train and educate the websites’ employees.
13. Any organization or persons may report acts that violate this regulation to the news administrative department of the municipal people’s government, the municipal public security bureau, the municipal department of telecommunication administration and the municipal department of Internet information content. The department that receives the report must handle it in accordance to the law.
14. For microblog users and microblog service sites who violate this regulation, the news administrative department of the municipal people’s government, the municipal public security bureau, the municipal department of telecommunication administration and the municipal department of Internet information content must handle it in accordance to the law.
15. Microblog service sites that opened before the publication of this regulation must, within three months from the date of publication of this regulation, apply for relevant formalities at the municipal department that is in charge of Internet information content, and regulates the existing microblog users.
16. This regulation shall come into force as of the date of publication.
Chinese microbloggers on Twitter
Due to the strict Internet censorship policy on microblogging enacted by the Chinese government, a number of Chinese microbloggers choose to make posts that contain "sensitive contents" on Twitter. Although Twitter has been blocked in China since 2009, most Twitter users who reside in China can access the Twitter website using a proxy. More information can be found on List of websites blocked in China.
Ai Wei-wei, a well-known Chinese artist and activist, who has been arrested and controlled by the Chinese government, is one of the most active Chinese microbloggers on Twitter.
Twitter users include Chinese nationals, who participated in, or led, the Chinese democracy movement that took place on June 4, 1989, such as Liu Xiaobo, the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner  and a political prisoner in China.
Weibo's most significant competition is rival microblogging service, WeChat, as of 2014 the country's leading messaging application. 
Below is an alphabetical list of notable China-based microblogging/weibo services:
- Baidu Talk (百度说吧), launched by Baidu, closed
- Digu (嘀咕)
- Fanfou (饭否), one of the earliest weibo services, highly similar to Twitter, closed due to Chinese censorship, re-opened in November 2010
- Hexun Weibo (和讯微博), launched by Hexun
- Jiwai (叽歪)
- NetEase Weibo (网易微博), launched by NetEase
- People's Weibo (人民微博), launched by People's Daily
- Phoenix Weibo (凤凰微博), launched by Phoenix Television
- Sina Weibo (新浪微博), launched by SINA Corporation, by far the most popular weibo in China, with over 300 million users
- Sohu Weibo (搜狐微博), launched by Sohu
- Tencent Weibo (腾讯微博), launched by Tencent Holdings
- Tianya Weibo (天涯微博), launched by Tianya Club
- Xinhua Weibo (新华微博), launched by Xinhua News Agency
- Zuosa (做啥)
- Comparison of microblogging services
- Internet in the People's Republic of China
- Internet censorship in the People's Republic of China
- The statistical data may or may not include the mainland Chinese users that bypass the Great Firewall to use blocked microblogging services outside China.
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