Once the top forum for public discussion and debate in China, Sina Weibo—a popular social media platform similar to Twitter—is suffering from the regime’s Internet censorship campaign with a drop in posts of over 70 percent, according to new research commissioned by The Telegraph.
Qian Weining and colleagues at East China University studied a group of 1.6 million Weibo microbloggers, tracking their number of daily posts since the platform’s launch in early 2011 through to the end of 2013.
The team found that the sample made a peak total of 83.8 million tweets in March 2012, just before the Communist Party began its crackdown against the service by enforcing users to register with their real names.
The Party proceeded to wipe out activists’ accounts, suspending any that blogged five “sensitive” posts in two days. Then last June, hundreds of users were arrested for spreading “rumors” on Weibo.
The sample group’s daily posts dropped by half just two weeks after vocal entrepreneur Charles Xue–who had over 12 million Weibo followers–was apprehended in August on prostitution charges, and later was brought out onto state television in shackles and a prison uniform to confess to having made “irresponsible” posts.
Other “Big V” celebrity microbloggers (V stands for verified; Big V bloggers each have millions of followers) toed the Party line, and limited their online presence by deleting posts, staying quiet or even cancelling their accounts.
Looking at the sample group, most users have become inactive. Only 114,000 were posting last December, compared with nearly 430,000 posting 40 times almost every day in March 2012, which constitutes a drop of 73 percent. A similar fall was seen in the number of posts: only 17.9 million in December versus nearly 68 million in March 2012.
A Sina spokesman told The Telegraph that the new findings are not representative. “The number of people who log in every day is steadfastly increasing. The number of people who log in less frequently is indeed not growing as robustly, but this does not affect the platform that much,” he said.
Many netizens have shifted to WeChat, a mobile app for instant messaging to individuals and small groups, which is more private and safer.
A Weibo user commented: “More and more bloggers are migrating from the Weibo to WeChat, because official censorship is relatively weaker on WeChat. Now Weibo has become a place to post ‘for sale’ information, keeping track of where celebrities are, and talking about travel. So sad!”
Research by Sophia Fang