China’s Largest Microblog Steps Up Censorship Measures

September 22, 2011 6:20 am Last Updated: October 1, 2015 3:34 pm
Chinese netizens use a laptop computer at a wireless cafe in Beijing in 2009. China's largest microblog Sina Weibo plans to implement more stringent Internet controls to stamp out 'rumors.' (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)
Chinese netizens use a laptop computer at a wireless cafe in Beijing in 2009. China's largest microblog Sina Weibo plans to implement more stringent Internet controls to stamp out 'rumors.' (Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Needled by government warnings to keep more stringent tabs on its users, China’s most popular microblog Sina Weibo is taking considerable new measures to censor millions of its posts that it and authorities deem are "Internet rumors."

Sina, the Internet company that operates Weibo, a Twitter-like microblog service, plans to form a "rumor-busting team" of about a dozen editors to sift out unwanted or undesirable blog posts and implement a rating system to assess the credibility of users, Sina’s CEO Charles Chao said at a forum on digital media in Beijing on Sunday.

In order to combat a sea of unconfirmed information that floats around in cyberspace—"rumors" that can spread across the Web in a flash—Sina will create a team consisting of 10 senior editors to "monitor, verify, and clarify rumors" that may be making their way through Weibo, Chao said according to the state-run China News Service.

Additionally, Chao noted that Sina is considering setting up a rating system similar to those of e-commerce sites like eBay to measure the "credibility" of posters to stamp out "rumor mongers."

All the meddling by Party officials has made investors nervous. Sina’s stock has taken a number of hits over concerns about restrictive regulations; on Sept. 20 the stock dropped 15 percent.

‘Double-Edged Sword’

In the two years since its inception, Sina Weibo’s userbase has rocketed to 200 million as of June and the microblog is now a top-10 website in China, Chao said. That number is making Communist Party officials sweat as Sina Weibo has been increasingly used as a soapbox for anti-government sentiment.

In July and August after a tragic high-speed rail crash near Wenzhou, China, killed dozens and injured 200, Sina Weibo was alight with comments lambasting the government’s emergency response to and handling of the crash.

Add to the equation the Arab Spring earlier this year, which the communist regime fears could be a spark of social unrest within China, and the Communist Party is on its heels to rein in dissent.

Government critics and Chinese Internet activists point to Chao’s announcement as evidence of the squeeze from communist officials: Most of these "rumors" that the ruling communist regime has an eye on are posts that may seem unfavorable to the Communist Party, which has a firm grip on the Internet and is fearful of online dissent bubbling into potential strife.

The Chinese Communist Party, through its Great Firewall and Internet controls, already blocks social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube and only allows Sina Weibo and its microblog competitors to operate if they follow its stringent rules on information control.

Microblogging has changed the way ordinary Chinese citizens are obtaining information and communicating with others, and is becoming a popular platform for voicing their views that would otherwise have been censored.

Immediately after the Wenzhou train collision, news of the crash first broke on Sina Weibo. In the days and weeks following, Weibo became the go-to site for satirizing seemingly obtuse official responses and reactions to the crash that rankled the ruling communists.

While the intention of these new rules is to stifle anti-government conversation, dissidents and pro-free speech activists believe they will backfire.

The Communist Party "is wasting its time," Chinese dissident journalist Li Datong told Voice of America.

"The more they block [on the Internet], the more illegitimate the government becomes. They can shut it down, but this will make the government an enemy of the people. It’s a double-edged sword."

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