China Struggles to Tame Microblogging Masses
A train crash that killed 40 people in July sparked an outpouring of public fury on the weibos, where thousands demanded to know why more care had not been taken over safety on China’s flagship high-speed rail network.
The scale of the response appeared to take authorities by surprise. Shortly after the accident, the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of China’s Communist Party, urged officials to use the weibos more to communicate with the public.
Weeks later, Beijing’s most senior Communist Party official, Liu Qi, visited the offices of Sina and Youku, a Chinese site similar to YouTube, to urge them to stop the spread of “false and harmful information”.
Xiao Qiang, media scholar at the University of California at Berkeley, said the weibos made it easier for individuals to speak out, and harder for censors to pinpoint troublemakers.
“Weibo is a social media platform particularly effective at aggregating micro-opinions into a collective voice,” he told AFP.
“This mechanism of forming public opinion is new and effectively contesting the traditional method of control and censorship of the party.”