Sina Weibo and other microblogging websites in China are getting ready for the government to impose stronger regulations and more censorship following a series of disruptive events exacerbated by or caused by communication via social media in the world’s second largest economy.
Sina Weibo is operated by Sina Corporation, which launched the website in August 2009. Sina Weibo is the most popular micro-blogging website in a country with at least 420 million internet users, the most internet users in any single country in the world.
Charles Chao, chief executive for Sina Corporation, said the company has been, for the last 2 or 3 months, “been looking into how to establish a trust system”, in order to address the chance that social media will be socially disruptive, cause instability, and also simplify the way content is controlled. Chao noted that vendors on e-commerce websites get rated by their customers, so this is one possible method.
Mr. Chao’s comments are a strong indication that China will impose tighter control on social media following a string of events where these websites were used to express strong criticism towards the government.
In August people living in Dalian, in northeastern China, used Weibo to organize huge demonstrations to protest a toxic petrochemical plant located near residential areas, causing authorities to agree to relocate it.
Anger and shock were the emotional reactions when news spread via Weibo this month of a 15 year old boy, the son of a prominent and high ranking general, attacked a couple in a road rage outburst. Fifteen year old Li Tianyi, who was not old enough to drive, was driving a BMW without license plates in Beijing, flew into a rage when a couple were blocking his way. Tianyi and another boy quickly got out of the car and assaulted the couple. The news travelled quickly on Weibo and outraged the citizenry because of the favored treatment the elite enjoy.
Tianyi was arrested, tried, and sentenced to a year in juvenile detention for his crime.
Another well publicized and much talked about story on Weibo that put pressure on the authorities followed a rail crash in July this year, in which 40 people were killed. Communication via Weibo from the crash site and eyewitness reports caused authorities to change the way they were handling the rescue, and how families of victims were reimbursed.