Weibo

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>

Social Media Research Proposal Review

In my initial research project proposal it’s possible I made some assumptions about both the methodology of autoethnography, and the core concepts behind the research itself. Below is a list of the possible assumptions involved in initial account:

  • In my initial post I assumed that Chinese social media was/is used exclusively, or at least “primarily” used by the Chinese population.
  • Those who have grown up in another culture can formulate an objective opinion/comparison through personal collection of data/first hand use only.
  • By analysing platforms created for another language in English, it is still possible to develop an accurate understanding of the culture without losing its nuances to the language barrier.
  • Assuming there is a comparison to be made at all between western social media and Chinese social media, it could be that they are almost identical, or used in very similar ways. This would render the comparison between the two a lot less interesting, and in a way void the meaning behind the research itself.

Further reading and research:

  • relational ethics – implicates itself heavily in this particular research project as it focuses primarily on social media; a means of connecting with others and building relationships. A common critique of the autoethnographic approach to writing is the ethical concerns and responsibilities surrounding the building of relationships for such projects. Researchers often create friendship and other relational ties with people which not only aid their inquiry but are also a simply by product of cultural immersion. This can lead to questions of how deeply can a researcher implicate their ‘friends’ in their writing and whether their relationship must be treated with a kind of sanctity or whether it can be mined for crucial information. In order to potentially avoid questions of relational ethics, I have chosen not to interview or personally engage with other users of these platforms, not to mention communicating with the vast majority of users on Chinese social media would require some knowledge of the Chinese language. Although this raises other concerns about the quality of my observations and whether they accurately represent the culture, I have instead chosen to use the literature to inform me. However, due to the nature of the research project this is not disadvantageous to an approach of this kind, as it is primarily a comparison between one’s known cultural experiences and one’s unfamiliar cultural experiences and how these differences in culture manifest across a range of social media platforms.

Despite these overwhelming assumptions, the autoethnographic approach still utilises a crucial methodology to develop and understanding of the culture through an immersion in it. It is through this approach that I believe I will gain the most data and knowledge to back up my research.

Researching China’s Social Media Platforms

Outline the scope of the individual research project and draw on the autoethnographic literature to indicate how the methodology will inform the investigation.

In my individual research project I’d like to look into a few different angles of social media. I’m going to look at Chinese social media, in particular their equivalences to western social media platforms, and more broadly, how their social media space differs from the west’s. To do this I plan to do a few things to help myself understand the platforms, primarily this will be using an autoethnographic method in that I will personally attempt to sign up to all the leading social media platforms and document my experience, possibly even record myself at the same time.

Source: Weibo.com login page

Source: Weibo.com login page google translated into english

In Brad Crawford’s documentary “100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience” he often makes the comparison between the ‘traditional’ arcade scene and the ‘up-and-coming console generation’. To compare my personal research project to this documentary, social media platforms in China, like Weibo, Renren and Tencent are primarily used by Chinese citizens, or at least Chinese speaking people, that is they survive, and were developed off the culture surrounding the platform. Similarly Japanese arcades were created in Japan, to entertain the Japanese people, the culture surrounding the platform has kept it active, and when the culture changes, so must the platform.

  • Some reasons for autoethnography in my project/signing up to the social media platforms – to better understand the differences in approaches, execution and culture of the platforms and thus be able to better compare it to western social media platforms

–  To create an informed first hand experience of the new (to me) platforms. Subsequently, I will do some data collection to help be able to compare statistical data between the different cultures.

– To look into how a culturally driven service i.e. they tailor the product to the users change between vastly different cultures, cross cultural difference in standards and emphasis on communication in the case of the social media platforms.

– Without actually using the platform, you can’t compare it to an adequate standard. Such a social, diverse and changing environment – would not benefit from a static research method – this point lends itself to the nature of technology and social media in general i.e. to keep up with peoples lives in ‘real time’.

– Generate a personal opinion from personal use.

To use a different approach to analyse the different media platforms would surely leave out important details and intricacies in how exactly the platforms are used, for what purpose they are used, and who exactly uses them. Observing such a social and culturally involved activity would not do the analysis justice when comparing it to western media which I have extensive experience in. Likewise to use purely statistical data analysis on the different social media platforms would leave out the important social differences and thus the analysis would lack a human aspect. This is why using an autoethnographic approach to the research benefits the analysis/comparison most, as it provides a means to comparing the two cultures, and opposing media platforms to a similar standard.

Just look at the Renren homepage, if I didn’t know any better I’d say it’s some kind of scam page out to steal my data.

Source: Renren homepage

Source: Renren homepage

References:

Crawford, B. (2016). 100 YEN: THE JAPANESE ARCADE EXPERIENCE [English subtitles]. [online] YouTube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=saqXPY4K-t0 [Accessed 15 Sep. 2016].

Ellis, Carolyn; Adams, Tony E. & Bochner, Arthur P. (2010). Autoethnography: An Overview [40 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12(1), Art. 10, http://nbn-resolving.de/urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs1101108.

Melissa精彩

After much discussion, research and deliberation I have finally nutted out what I’m going to focus on for my autoethnography, and how I’m actually going to make Chinese social media autoethnographic. Autoethnography is explained as an approach to research that describes and analyses personal experience in order to understand cultural experience (Ellis, Adams & Bochner 2011), and in order to have a personal experience of the cultural experience of Chinese social media, I have created a Sina Weibo account. I have decided to use this account to investigate Chinese social media first hand and create a research report that aims to teach an Australian audience about social media in China, and more particularly about the platform Sina Weibo. Over the next few weeks I will be documenting my experience of the site, any challenges that occur and how the site and my interactions with it differ from my own Australian experience of social media.

I chose to create an account on Sina Weibo as it has 559million subscribed users worldwide, and 129m in China, making one of the most popular (wearesocial 2014). Also there is an English version of the app, which will allow me to have a more realistic experience of China’s social media landscape with 73% of Weibo users accessing the site through mobile devices (wearesocial 2014). The app itself is just an English interface, meaning it doesn’t actually translate the posts, so to actually read posts on the site I need to use Google chrome and its translation feature on my laptop. The signup process was relatively similar to that of Twitter, however I found the verification code harder to crack than normal. Also due to the emphasis placed on the use of mobile devices, I was required to enter my mobile number to gain another verification code via text. The extra emphasis placed on security I assumed could be attributed to the level of internet security China exhibits due to its extreme censorship, or it could just suggest that our social media sites are not so secure.

My name on Sina Weibo is Melissa精彩 , this was suggested and I translated the characters and they mean wonderful, so for the next five weeks I will be known to Sina Weibo users as this. Language and my location became a barrier to my sign up experience as not all writing translated and often Australia was not listed as an option. I had to put an area code in front my phone number, Google the characters for gender, translate my name to Chinese characters for the site to recognise it as a ‘real name’ and put my school as ‘other’ due to no Australian schools being listed, despite it being an option on the initial sign up page, which suggests that there is very few Australian users of the site. However, I made it through and my profile can be viewed here. Feel free to check up on account and give me some feedback on my progress, or even better create an account and join me for the journey.

Sources:

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1. http://www.qualitativeresearch.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1589/3095

wearesocial, 2014, Social, Digital & Mobile in China 2014′, wearesocial, viewed 4/9/14 <http://www.slideshare.net/wearesocialsg/social-digital-mobile-in-china-2014&gt;