Microbloggers thrive in China despite Twitter ban

The Economist has an excellent article on micro-blogging in China which really is a must-read. Taken from the article are a series of interesting facts relating to weibo, the country’s most popular microblogging platform… don’t forget Twitter is banned.

First, an indication of how popular microblogging is China. Interesting reading for those who think Twitter IS microblogging:

The new leading service, Sina Weibo, says it has gained more than 20m registered users since it was launched in August 2009.

Last August China Youth News, a newspaper run by the ruling party’s Communist Youth League, reported that in a nationwide survey more than 45% of people under 40 said they were frequent weibo users.

More than 94% said that weibo had changed their lives.

Weibo usage is not only huge in terms of numbers, it is also wide-ranging:

Hu Yong of Peking University estimates that more than 10m people are weibo regulars. In an article published abroad earlier this month, he claimed that the Chinese were world leaders in microblogging, using it for everything from “social resistance” to “mailing postcards to prisoners of conscience”.

Mr Hu argued that this was promoting subtle social progress rather than lighting the fuse of a “Twivolution”, but he reckoned the phenomenon was nonetheless opening up “new possibilities for reshaping China’s authoritarian regime”.

While an account from an anti-government source on the differences between weibo and Twitter as channels is interesting too:

Many of the government’s most prominent critics have accounts on the blocked Twitter service as well as on weibo. One of them, Wen Yunchao (who has more than 32,000 Twitter followers), says he prefers to use weibo if he wants information to be picked up by domestic media.

However, with the government doing its best to monitor and make use of social media, there is a fine balance between Weibo making noise and becoming an outright threat:

Rebecca MacKinnon, an internet analyst, says anyone wanting to organise something “truly subversive” would not use microblogs anyway, since the government might be able to trace them.

And if weibo become more threatening to the party, they can be shut down.

The rest of the article is, as I mention at the top, worth reading. Find it here.

Assuming weibo is correct in saying it has 20 million registered users but 10 million who are active, that represents around 3.4 percent of the those online in the country. Although it is not a universal reflection of all of those online, it is the same metric used to measure Twitter across Asia recently.

China’s weibo score would rank it outside of the world’s top 20, but given it doesn’t include those who use Twitter, and that Twitter itself is blocked, it demonstrates that micoblogging in China is more active than many think.