What’s a global superpower without a little home-grown social media sprinkled in the mix? In the United States and Western Europe, services like Facebook and Twitter are as common in household nomenclature as toilet paper and driveways. As China continues to increase its influence on the global stage, it has seen a boom in social media use with odd alternate reality versions of services like Facebook and Twitter. Anyone reading this article is likely familiar with the following homepage:
and so even though you probably can’t read the content on this next site you’ll at least recognize it for what it probably is:
The second picture is from the website Renren, China’s equivalent to Facebook. It’s funny how even the user interface are somewhat literal mirrors of each other. Again, in another crude study, here is a site you probably have heard of:
and then the Chinese counterpart, Weibo:
It’s as if one of those comic book-style stories of a parallel world (limited to the social media world, in this case) splintered off of the one we know and grew alongside of ours in its own distinct yet familiar direction. So why might China have developed their own national equivalents of popular social media sites when Facebook and Twitter are available and already offer their sites in Chinese? In a word: censorship.
China is notorious for micro-managing the content on social media sites so, instead of butted heads with the likes of Facebooks and Twitters, it makes sense to simply block those sites altogether and launch a indigenous version like Renren and Weibo. All of this is a part of the ominously sounding Golden Shield Project, or more commonly, The Great Firewall, that the Chinese government has implemented in order to control the flow of information among social media sites. The Diplomat describes a little about how it works:
These services are then required to have automated or manual monitoring and censorship mechanisms in place to quickly identify and delete user-generated postings or disable accounts that run afoul of the Communist Party’s ever-changing censorship red lines. It’s a daily reality for Chinese bloggers, academics, activists, and even ordinary users to discover a posting deleted, their account locked, or their “friends” unable to view what they have just shared.
But in the same way this microblogging service can enable commerce, entertainment and personal communication, it’s also increasingly used to share information and commentary unwelcome to the ruling Communist Party. To keep pace, Sina Weibo reportedly employs some 700 people to perform around the clock monitoring of millions of tweets.
700 people just to monitor the tweets! People write such insipid things on Twitter that I my eyeballs would probably try to climb out of my skull if I had to read all of them in order to purge a some comments that didn’t flatter the government. China’s own citizens are often in the dark about major political events happening in their own country, such as “the muzzled Wukan revolt, the democratic ambitions of the Arab Spring protestors are absent” while “Liu Xiaobo’s 2010 Nobel Peace Prize is hidden from view, and the U.S. Embassy in Beijing’s efforts to discuss Hillary Clinton’s speech with Chinese microbloggers are deleted.”
While there may be much to complain about in the western world, it is refreshing to be reminded that we can at least lambaste our political figures without having the digital duct tape slapped across our face. That would really diminish the good times enjoyed while following the #tweetthepress trends on Twitter whenever there is a political debate among presidential candidates.