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.
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/