Will Weibo break China?


02 May 2012


When people talk about China, what’s in your mind? A country has the highest population in the world, with 1.3 billion people, a sleeping dragon that is now awake, five thousand years civilization, or world heritage site the Great Wall?

Another Great Wall is well known in China, The Great Fire Wall, which the Chinese government uses to blacklist certain search engines, websites and keywords. The Communist Party stops people visiting some sites outside China, returns no results for searches of banned terms, censors chat and vets blogs. In other words, the Chinese authorities control web access for external resource. For example, internet users inside of China are unable to see websites such as some foreign news sites, Facebook and other sites that mention human rights.

In spite of the Chinese government’s censorship, the number of Internet users is growing. In 2011, the number of internet users soared to 513 million, half of which are using micro-blogging services, according to a new report from the government-run China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC).

Nowadays, about 300 million Chinese people use Weibo (微博), China’s equivalent of Twitter, seen as a key resource of news, forum and debate. Users can easily register an account on Weibo (微博), posting their opinions, joining online discussion and debating issues. It is almost certain that the opening discussion on Chinese microblog websites is a noticeable improvement of freedom of speech in China.

When people are about to give a big clap to the government for their progression of improving freedom of information in China, the authority seems to change their mind.

Millions of Weibo (微博) users in China are now facing new rules. In order to prevent so-called rumours on the site, users in the capital, Beijing, now have to register with their real identities to post online. Also, the other major cities are expected to follow soon.

Weibo (微博) users, rethink!

You can still criticise issues and join political debates as you usually did. The only difference is: the government might know who you are. Mind what you say, because the authority is watching.

Can Weibo (微博) be the trigger to launch the revolution of freedom of speech in China? I don’t know the answer. However, I do see that the Chinese government is now very cautious about the effect of the Arab Spring in China. At least, they know online public opinion can be powerful.

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