Thursday, 17 May 2012

Weibo - What Do You Know About It?

If you've recently downloaded the latest version in the series of “Angry Birds” games, ‘Angry Birds: Space’, then you may have noticed that during the level select stage, there is an option to share on Facebook & Twitter, but there is also a new option – to share on Weibo.

I'd never heard of this site before and, after some research, it's likely that you haven't either if you're reading this from anywhere other than China. I found that Weibo is in fact a Chinese Micro-blogging website, similar to Twitter. However, the only language it's available in at the moment is Chinese, though if you were to visit the site and use Google's “translate” feature, you'd see a very poorly translated English version:

 So why has the creator of Angry Birds, Rovio, bothered including an option for English speaking people to share on a Chinese website? Well, to understand that, you'll need to know a little more about Weibo.

A basic version of Sina Weibo, otherwise known as simply “Weibo” (微博) was launched by SINA Corporation on 14 August 2009 after Sina's CEO saw an opportunity after websites such as Facebook & Twitter had been blocked in China following the Ürümqi riots in July 2009.

The basic functions of this new site only included messages, private messages, comment and repost where possible, but was so successful that the site continued to expand, and, as of February 2012, had more than 300 million users. It also has plans to launch an English version of Sina Weibo, to grow worldwide, however the contents will still be controlled by Chinese law.

Like Twitter, Weibo uses many of the same features, such as users only updating posts with a 140 character limit, and talking to other users using the “@UserName” format.. However, unlike Twitter, unregistered users can only browse a few posts by verified members (normally verified users are, like on Twitter, famous people who have proven their identity), and cannot see ANY posts by unverified members including those sent to verified members. Also unlike Twitter, Weibo is moderated.

So, although this seems like a nice idea in theory, the site will still have to abide and be controlled by Chinese laws in which users are not allowed freedom of speech. Weibo and many websites like it in China are heavily monitored as the internet has been censored in China, and has the largest recorded number of imprisoned journalists and cyber-dissidents in the world. It is rumoured that there are over 30,000 members belonging to secret policing organisations to not only monitor and block website content, but also monitor the internet access of individuals. The following is a list of rules for anyone (including tourists) wishing to access the internet in China to follow:

“No unit or individual may use the Internet to create, replicate, retrieve, or transmit the following kinds of information:
  1. Inciting to resist or breaking the Constitution or laws or the implementation of administrative regulations;
  2. Inciting to overthrow the government or the socialist system;
  3. Inciting division of the country, harming national unification;
  4. Inciting hatred or discrimination among nationalities or harming the unity of the nationalities;
  5. Making falsehoods or distorting the truth, spreading rumours, destroying the order of society;
  6. Promoting feudal superstitions, sexually suggestive material, gambling, violence, murder;
  7. Terrorism or inciting others to criminal activity; openly insulting other people or distorting the truth to slander people;
  8. Injuring the reputation of state organizations;
  9. Other activities against the Constitution, laws or administrative regulations.”
- Wikipedia

For these reasons, I'm not sure whether or not opening a Weibo site for English users would necessarily be a good idea, or even take off in Western countries such as the UK, since people generally don't like being told what they can/can't post in their “private” online space. The majority of my Facebook & Twitter feeds are regularly full of quite a few things on the above list, and if users were forced to comply with Chinese law on a moderated site I'm not sure if disobeying the rules would end up resulting in legal consequences.

Thanks for reading, I think maybe we'll just have to wait and see what happens with this site, but i'd love to know your thoughts on this too!

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