The operators of China’s most vibrant equivalent of Twitter notified each of its 200 million users Friday that several bloggers deemed to have spread unfounded rumors would have their accounts suspended for one month.
In messages, the operators ofSina.com’s Weibo microblog detailed the suspensions of the bloggers. The announcements provoked a torrent of online protest, some of which was directed at the government on the assumption that it was behind the punishments.
If so, it was the clearest expression yet of the government’s growing concern about its inability to curb free expression on the Internet — particularly searing criticism of official acts — despite a sweeping and extremely sophisticated censorship regime.
On Monday, a member of the Politburo, the nine-member Communist Party committee that acts as China’s collective leadership, visited Sina.com officials and bluntly said that they should “resolutely put an end to fake and misleading information.” The official, Beijing’s party secretary, Liu Qi, said they should employ new technology to better manage the microbloggers, whose numbers have grown explosively in the last year.
The company’s notices stated that two bloggers who had spread false rumors on Weibo would lose their right to post messages or to add followers for a month. One stated that a blogger had been suspended after posting a false report that the accused killer of a 19-year-old woman had been set free after his politically powerful father intervened.
Another notice disclosed the suspension of a blogger who accused the Red Cross Society of China, which is mired in a financial scandal that has drawn national attention, of selling blood at a profit.
Sina has been under fire recently and all Chinese internet content will probably be subject to stricter governmental regulations. From Zachs Investment Research:
Chinese micro-blog “weibo” provider, SINA Corp. (SINA) is expected to face stiff regulatory control over Internet content, according to a recent report by Chinese newspaper Beijing Daily.
Beijing Daily, which is backed by the Communist Party of China, quoted party leader Liu Qi, who warned Chinese Internet companies including SINA to tighten control over online material, particularly sensitive information that spreads dissent among the general public. The Beijing Internet Media Association, a government-sanctioned industry group, also called on its 104 member companies to filter Internet content.
According to a latest report published by China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), China has the world’s biggest online population, which was 485 million Internet users at the end of June 30, 2011.
However, China’s social network market is shrinking, as the number of social network users decreased to 5.16 million in the first half of 2011. The decline can be primarily attributed to strict government censorship. Chinese search engines and online video sites, microblogging services also require appropriate licenses to operate and are subject to censorship. Politically sensitive posts are often removed while searches involving sensitive keywords show no results.
However, these tough regulations did not deter the micro-blog market, which soared 208.9% year over year and accumulated 195 million users (40.2% of the total Chinese Internet population) at the end of the first half of 2011. The primary beneficiary of this tremendous growth has been SINA, which has registered users of more than 140 million as of June, 2011.
Accounts of Chinese Bloggers Suspended, Causing Protests – New York Times
SINA Faces Strict Regulations – Zachs Investment Research