The Chinese love to Weibo. This notwithstanding issues like real-name registration requirements, filtering and censorship. Weibo has become part of Chinese online culture, and even with challenges in the freedom of use and of information, this is a nation of Internet users who love to micro-blog.
Vanity Fair calls Weibo services the “Twitter of the East.” And it’s not just the Chinese who are getting crazy over microblogging. Even western celebrities like Tom Cruise, Britney Spears and Jeremy Lin are signing up on Weibo and engaging with their Chinese audience. The various Weibo services — most prominent of which is Sina Weibo — subscribe to the Chinese authorities’ strict censorship and filtering requirements, and will soon require real-name registration across all regions in China. However, this does not deter users from reaching out and expressing themselves on the platform.
Sina Weibo itself has about 250 million users, and is gaining 10 million more each month, and the country has about 550 million Weibo accounts distributed across various microblogging services. Who says censorship can prevent an online service from reaching this massive scale?
A photo-gallery on Tencent News showcases the kinds of users hooked on Weibo, from 10-year old kids to civil servants, from college users to senior citizens still wanting to keep abreast of trends. Check out the gallery below.
There is said to be a delicate balance between freedom of expression and the need to control the flow of information in this social ecosystem, though. Weibo can be a fun way to engage and connect with friends and online contacts, but it has also become a medium for subversion and a means of surveillance. As such, most users are careful with what they say, usually keeping off of topics like the so-called “3Ts and 1F,” which are Tiananmen, Taiwan, Tibet and Falun Gong, which are mostly censored from the Chinese internet.
Many will use linguistic variations to keep on circumventing the censors and monitors, though. For instance, controversial artist Ai Weiwei, was detained in 2011 over alleged tax evasion (although the artist believes this was done for his being outspoken against government). While the name itself has been censored within online services, users had resorted to using homonyms, such as Ai Wei Lai, which means “Love the future” in Mandarin.
Censorship and other controversies, weibo services are here to stay. With Weibo branching out to other languages, will Chinese microblogging services likewise gain traction through the rest of the world?