Weibo Censorship and Southern Weekly
The International Business Times posted this message to its Weibo account on December 7. The message has since been removed. Yangfengyuzhe (@正版于洋)’s account has also disappeared:
@IBTimes: Verified Weibo user @yangfengyuzhe exposed the deletion of massive numbers of posts at 4 a.m. today. His take, in brief: (1) Sina is not at the top of the decision chain when it comes to deleting posts; (2) Sina has already raised the barrel of its gun up a notch; (3) Sina is in a tight spot, but is trying its best to fight on.
Aside from Xuan Xuan [a cute nickname for the censors], my organization shouldered more attacks than anyone on Weibo last night. The whole site was shockingly filled with “This weibo has been deleted” notices, making Weibo look like a boat full of holes battered by a typhoon. I went to take a look at the weibo page of [my colleague] Old Chen from the Operations Department, and it was overflowing with criticism. After NetEase published that article about the Southern Weekly incident, condemnation and blame for Sina has grown to a fevered pitch. I become more and more worked up over this all night long, until I finally could no longer hold back my anger and got caught up in an unusual war of words with a well-known screenwriter.
After cooling down, I’ve now thought long and hard about the situation. I feel the need to write this long-form weibo so that the public can understand the facts of the matter.
Often, those who point indignant fingers as soon as they perceive a wrong do not see the real truth.
(1) If [Sina] did not delete certain weibo posts, then that would probably mean entire topics would be deemed off limits. Weibo is a public platform. No one can deny how Weibo has changed our lives in terms of society, government, as a means of quickly and conveniently expressing public opinion, etc. The problem is, on one end we have over 100 million public Weibo users, but the other end is not Sina. Ever since that year when the commenting function on Weibo was disabled for three days, that special group of knee-jerk reactionary bureaucrats have been able to throw up the yellow light and deduct points any time they so pleased. They really have no responsibility to consider public opinion whatsoever. They could institute a “game over” for Weibo as effortlessly as smashing an ant. So when they issue the 18th Golden Edict, you have no choice but to execute their demands.
In this game, when we need Weibo to make our voices heard, but that hand also strives to control us from behind the scenes, a certain amount of sacrifice is necessary to reap some gain. This is the kind of country we live in. There are all kinds of special, sensitive restraints placed on us. The game can only be played well by staying within the bounds of the rules.
2. That leads me to my next topic–the strategic relationship between comment deletion and the dissemination of information. I posit the following question to you all: You are all crazily posting weibo, and those “little secretaries” are busily deleting them all. But with the situation as it is, has your ability to see this information been hindered? If they didn’t delete individual Weibo posts, they would just directly shut down entire accounts. Wouldn’t that limit our worry even more? Wouldn’t that let us feel like real smart alecs? Hasn’t everyone already seen the post before it was deleted? For all of those who have had their Weibo posts deleted, have your accounts been shut down? Many of you are veteran Internet users. So you know Internet technology, you know that deleting something seconds after it is posted is not a big deal. There’s always more than one side to things. Everyone should consider this carefully.
3. There are some things others can do that Sina honestly cannot do. To say it in a slightly more arrogant way, I could not be faulted for immodesty by saying “the tall tree catches the most wind.” Since everyone uses Weibo, censors will be there, watching your every move. And at the slightest sign of trouble, they are ready to pounce into action and issue a flurry of directives at a moment’s notice, like the priest in Cinema Paradiso.
In fact, pressure already exists right when, and even before, a situation breaks out. But we can deal with it. The fact that all information can make it out represents a hard-fought victory in itself. When the story broke, @SinaMedia published a comparative report regarding the takeover of the Southern Weekly account. @TopNews immediately reposted it, and within three minutes, the report was reposted over 30,000 times. Of course, censors were there to issue their directives. We had no choice but to delete it. But fortunately, the information had already gotten out. A friend of mine at the Penguin website left a comment on my Weibo page saying, “In this war between us rivals, Sina is the human shield. If not Sina, who else would dare?
4. If nothing unexpected happens, the elders are going to want to drink tea. That is all.
Via CDT Chinese. Translation by Little Bluegill.
Note: As of the publishing of this post, we noted that Global Voices had also translated the same document (here).