Meeting Signals Pressure on Microblogs

A meeting of the State Internet Information Office saw its chief, also a deputy minister for propaganda, add weight to talk of an imminent reining-in of China’s microblog platforms. From China Media Project:

At yesterday’s meeting, Wang Chen emphasized that “[we] must thoroughly apply a series of guiding spirits of the central Party in regards to internet construction, development and management, keeping to the guiding principle of ‘positive use, scientific development, management by rule of law and ensuring safety’ . . . ” Wang said the government must “thoroughly give play to the positive role of microblogs in serving society, taking concrete steps to develop and manage [them], working together to preserve a healthy and orderly online communication order, serving the overall work of the government and the Party, and serving the masses.”

The news has mixed implications for the future of weibo: ominous in terms of content and freedom of expression, but also reassuring, as the threat of a total shutdown recedes. From China Real Time Report:

Delivered two days before the Communist Party’s Central Committee is scheduled to meet to discuss cultural reforms, the comments helped send shares in Nasdaq Stock Market-listed Sina Corp., operator of the popular Weibo microblogging service, soaring 18% on Thursday as investors appeared reassured that Chinese authorities wouldn’t shut down the service. At about noon on Friday in New York it was down 2.2% to $90.85 ….

While it seems increasingly unlikely that authorities will pull the plug on microblogging sites, Mr. Bishop said investors should be wary of tighter regulation.

“I think it’s going to have somewhat of a chilling effect on the content on Weibo,” he said. “The question is at what point will Sina need to monetize it and what effect will this have on their ability to make money with it.”

Samsung Securities analyst Paul Wuh offered a similar assessment in a note on Friday. “If government regulation increases, microblog services are likely to be more assertive in removing controversial content,” he wrote. “We expect the quality of Weibo to suffer as a result—increasing the risk of a slowdown or even decline in Weibo users.”

See earlier reports of looming weibo controls via CDT, and on Bishop’s DigiCha blog.


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