The social media arena has become a safe haven for many who feel silenced in modern day China. Ever since the country has opened its doors to these platforms in 2009, the numbers of users have steadily grown to surpass even that of Twitter. Currently Sina Weibo has accumulated around 340 million active users on its site, some of which are international celebrities like Tom Cruise and Emma Watson who want to reach out to their Chinese fan base.
The site follows the same format as Twitter, where people are given 140 characters to share their thoughts and opinions. This is more than enough in the Chinese language, allowing them to project longer flows of thought as opposed to the witty one-liners that Westerners turn to because of the limited space. Conversations on the site vary as they talk about sports, gossip, popular topics, polls, events, and unexpectedly, arguments on government corruption.
It’s an interesting concept to behold, a platform for conversation in a censored world. Presented is a weird sense of balance, the government is allowing the people to talk, but there is an unspoken agreement that certain things cannot be mentioned. The most known of these taboo subjects are the 3T’s and 1 F, meaning: Tiananmen, Taiwan, Tibet, and Falon-gong.
Any mention of material that could be interpreted as a threat to China’s socialist values could lead to the removal of material, suspension of an account, or even shutting down the entire Weibo-sphere. While that might not sound so bad to foreign ears, being cut off from this platform is almost equivalent to losing your freedom of speech. With China having a taste of what’s it like to be heard, the thought of losing it is absolutely terrifying.
Because authorities are still watching these micro-blogging platforms carefully, the Chinese are very careful, and clever. They know that certain keywords can catch attention, so they’ve manipulated the language to become something that has an entirely different meaning. There’s constant development in the way they communicate online, altering abbreviations, expressions, and words to suggest the underlying message behind it.
In its own right, the movement is absolutely revolutionary. Recently, it’s being carefully monitored because the site cannot afford to become too powerful. The agreement is for everyone to behave. Citizens should know what kind of material is crossing the line, and the government should not impose unreasonable restrictions that could spark protests.
With Sina Weibo’s many active users, its incredible how quickly information can spread. It can prove to be very helpful especially during times of crisis and injustice. Many cite the bullet train incident in Zhejiang province where 40 people were killed and around 200 people were injured. Rescue efforts were able to get to the scene quite quickly, and the citizens were quick to look for someone to be held responsible. Another incident at a popular hotel chain in Japan, where history books were being kept in rooms that insinuated the Chinese fabricated the Rape of Nanking. This sparked waves of anger on Weibo where two bloggers posted a video about it. As can be seen, even with censorship present, Weibo’s users are fearless when it comes to injustice.
In recent months, it seems like China’s government is trying to contain as much as it can before their “freedom” gets too out of hand. This includes the closing of several celebrity gossip websites, suspending video posting and online streaming, and the topics of drug addiction and homosexuality on the grounds of inappropriate content. While China has definitely taken many leaps forward, this comes to show that the communist country still has a long way to go.