Weibo Censors Hashtags “Taiwan Election,” “Frozen Garlic,” More

Over the weekend, discussions of Taiwan’s general election were both censored and drowned out on Weibo. Censors removed the hashtags “Taiwan Election,” “Taiwan General Election,” and “2024 Taiwan General Election,” as well as another one relating to a popular Taiwanese political chant. Before it was censored, the hashtag “Taiwan Election” briefly rose to number 11 on Weibo’s “hot list” of trending topics: 

A screenshot of Weibo's top trending topics at noon on January 13, 2024. "Taiwan Election" is number 11.
An archived screenshot shows the hashtag “Taiwan Election,” highlighted in red, trending at #11 on Weibo’s list.

The hashtag “frozen garlic” was also censored. Seemingly innocuous, it is actually an approximate homophone for “get elected” in the Southern Min dialect widely spoken in Taiwan and a stock chant at campaign rallies

Weibo routinely censors election discussions, even sometimes for China’s own “whole-process people’s democracy.” In 2023, Weibo quashed all commentary on Xi’s unanimous re-selection to China’s presidency during the National People’s Congress. When democracy-related discussion is permitted on Weibo, it is often focused on mockery of the American political system.

Efforts to suppress discussion of Taiwanese democracy likely went beyond such examples of visible censorship. Many Chinese netizens suspect that Weibo also aimed to “drown out” election talk by promoting the frivolous hashtag “Behind the Scenes of the Weibo Awards Ceremony.” Most popular Weibo hashtags have a “host” that curates top results. The lack of a host for the award ceremony-related hashtag stoked suspicions about its authenticity, as did its rapid rise to the top of the “hot list” just as Taiwan began to tabulate election results. 

A screenshot showing that the hashtag "Behind the Scenes of the Weibo Awards Ceremony" has risen to the number one trending topic on Weibo within 4.5 hours of appearing.
A line graph charting the precipitous rise of the hashtag "Behind the Scenes of the Weibo Awards Ceremony"
Two graphs show the possibly bogus rise of the hashtag “Behind the Scenes of the Weibo Awards Ceremony” to the top of Weibo’s “hot list.” 

Despite the censorship of hashtags, Chinese netizens still found ways to discuss Taiwan’s general election. After Xinhua made a Weibo post parroting China’s Taiwan Affairs Office (TAO) spokesman Chen Binhua declaration that “the results showed the Democratic Progressive Party cannot represent mainstream public opinion on the island,” netizens had a field day mocking the statement in Xinhua’s comment section. One representative comment read, “[A]nd who are you to dismiss the results of a fair election with that one word: ‘unrepresentative?'” Others were less polite: “[TAO is] the most shameless, useless, piece-of-trash government department.” 


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