Self-Censorship Training with Weibo

Radio Australia has one, too: a Sina Weibo account. Of course, they will have to watch their tongue, if I understand the rules more correctly than Deutsche Welle did. Weibo may, however, provide some good self-censorship training for foreign organizations, and that might be worth the trouble.

Many Happy Reincarnatons: Net Nanny, the Dismembered Internet Jingcha, and the Sliced Weibo account

Many Happy Reincarnatons: Net Nanny, the Dismembered Internet Jingcha, and the Sliced Weibo account

A Weibo account may be a good tool for an international broadcaster to promote its home country as a travel destination, and to “reach out” to “fans” in China (Radio Australia has more than 19,096, currently). But to me, Weibo is merely an account to listen, not to micro-blog myself. Once I’d have to reincarnate (转世), all previous activity would turn out to be wasted time.

Besides, once real-name registration is enforced – if that is going to happen -, it wouldn’t be JR’s platform anymore, anyway.

Or am I getting it all wrong?

14 Responses to “Self-Censorship Training with Weibo”

  1. Dismembered Internet Jingcha? Dismembered by the net nanny? That makes no sense, does it?

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  2. Oh yes, it does, Tai De. Internet Jingcha was hit by Net Nanny about a year ago, thus suffering some collateral damage while checking on a subversive porn site or something. But he has long forgiven Nanny because he knows that she meant no harm, and shit happens when the enemy is so strong and dangerous, and all patriotic forces are fighting with zeal and determination.

    Besides, Internet Jingcha wrote a mouth-painted letter to Uncle Wen on the same day of the unfortunate incident, and Uncle Wen stated at the National People’s Congress that each of the 1.3 million people affected by work accidents should be included into the work injury insurance’s scope. That made Internet Jingcha’s day.

    I’m sure there are even more patriotic and uplifting stories behind this, but I think I’ll leave it to Lisa Carducci to write some wonderful christmas carols about them.

    You know, the real christmas carol, without stereotypes. She’ll cross-check facts with the local government to ensure that what she’s written is true.

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  3. You are getting it wrong.1. No big thing to get reborn if you got something interesting to say 2. Shimingzhi (real name) is as ineffective as the green dam. It will never work. It is just a bit more mafan, nothing else.

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  4. The pattern of argument looks familiar to me, Anonymouse:

    It will never work, because the Chinese people won’t let it happen; they will outsmart those stupid officials anyway, and arrogant foreigners, too; and every try from above to lead the people by their noses is doomed. Et cetera.

    Green Dam hasn’t become mandatory to this day – it was dumped in summer 2009, for an indefinite period (i. e. probably forever), the fact that it was still meant to be mandatory for internet cafes doesn’t mean a great deal either, because the software project supposed to be making it has been defunct since July 2010, according to Chinese press coverage, and lawyers did the rest (if there was anything left to be done by then)..

    The real point is this: Green Dam was never a priority which the party wanted to see through (probably more a buddy deal between some lower-level technocrat officials and software makers). Without top-level backing, it’s obvious that it wouldn’t work. If the party should decide to shut Weibo down some time in the future, for being too much of a hassle, that would be that – and provided that they tell the right story (stuff like it’s becoming a Trojan horse for hostile forces abroad, plus some evidence), such a measure may not even create too much bad blood among the public).

    What decides the feasibility of a project isn’t necessarily the technical side of it, but the degree of political determination to see it through.

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  5. Oh come on.

    “If the party should decide to shut Weibo down some time in the future, for being too much of a hassle, that would be that” You are joking, right?

    Shutting down weibo would be like trying to banish cars in at the beginning of the last century or forbidding cars in the 50s. This time is the age of web 2.0. Shutting down weibo would be the definite end of the the CCP. That´s for sure. Kicking out Mr Bo? No problem. Making kids to use their real name on the internet? Never.

    What kind of system do these guys have in mind? Fingerprints, passport, phone number? If there is an infinite number of parallel universes out there in none of them any government can make this happen. It ist just one more silly idea. And the only reason nobody writes or talks about the actual fact that the ultimatum for lauching the real name system allready passed hardly without any consequences is because too many people believed in the strange idea that this will work.

    And even if the CCP would have the stupid idea that shutting down Weibo would help them. There are a billion ways to create similar social networks. An effectively controlled and politically censored Web 2.0 would be like water that is not wet.

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  6. “Shutting down weibo would be like trying to banish cars in at the beginning of the last century or forbidding cars in the 50s.”

    correction: I meant “forbidding TVin the 50s”

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  7. Testing the waters is a universally applied approach in China, Anonymouse – by the party, by any business person, by any consumer. So far, the central government hasn’t thrown its weight behind it. The real-name thing is only of nation-wide relevance because all major service providers have their headquarters in Beijing, and it’s the municipal, not the central political level who are tinkering with the real-name approach, and who might lose face in the process.
    Obviously, the CCP won’t enter the stage of every netizen’s individual life just for fun and say “we are the bad guys who are spoiling your fun”. But they will do just that if they see the need – with some explanation that helps to save peoples’ self-esteem (see above), if possible; and with a sufficient dose of intimidation if need be. Who do you believe would stop them?

    All the central authorities need to do if they want to see this through is to sufficiently fine the service providers. They don’t even need to shut down wide parts of the internet, as did in Xinjiang, in 2009. It’s a mere cost-benefit analysis, and the heart of the matter is to stay in power. If you miss the CCP’s priorities, you aren’t prepared for rainy days.

    Han Han – or his ghost writer, or whoever – noted quite correctly that people will find a scapegoat if the internet should be put on the backburner. And you bet that whoever will be picked as scapegoats, it won’t be the central bigwigs.

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  8. “All the central authorities need to do if they want to see this through is to sufficiently fine the service providers.”
    Not an option. That would be the end for tencent and sina. I guess you underestimate the fact that facebook and twitter are still waiting for this to happen and fill the gap.

    The way to solve this. Look at the counter on: http://badge.weibo.com/

    This counter is one of the best practical jokes ever made in internet history. 200 Million users are already using the real name system? Sure. And ooops, the search term shimingzhi is blocked by weibo. What a coincident. Could it be that no one really wants a discussion about this?

    Here is the solution for our little problem: hardly anyone registers, government ignores it, sina keeps on publishing fake figures, western media believes it and keeps on writing that censorship is ubiquitous, everyone is happy. I am fine with that.

    JR, in China it’s the hidden rules that matter.

    “with some explanation that helps to save peoples’ self-esteem”
    There is no explanation for stopping the discussion about your rights as a citizen – and that is what weibo is all about.

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  9. There is no explanation for stopping the discussion about your rights as a citizen

    I suggest that you write to Liu Xiaobo or to Gao Zhisheng (if you can find Gao’s address) to lay the good news on them, Anonymouse. Your logical gap is this: the center has neither gotten involved in the Green Dam, nor in the real-name issue, but you portray this issue as if they had given it a go, just to find out that their hands were tied. You can do that – but to me, this way of interpretation, plus your regular criticism of German mainstream media and their misrepresentations (in fields where they anger you, that is) don’t look plausible.

    Btw – neither Sina Weibo, nor Facebook are all about discussion of rights as citizens. They are commercial ventures, and come with terms and conditions which people may either accept or decline. They are no parallel universe – they are part of, and subject to the real world.

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  10. Cases like Liu Xiaobo and Gao Zhisheng can be handled like this because very few Chinese took notice of it. Liu Xiaobos approach was to radical and Gao Zhisheng is hardly known.

    “but you portray this issue as if they had given it a go, just to find out that their hands were tied.”

    It’s the same all around the globe. Politicians do not like the idea that they are not able to stop the open and sometimes very disturbing debate on the internet and present ideas to stop these bad things happening. The problem is that nearly none of them has understood how the internet works. Most ideas end up in the trash bin.

    But why do I know that they have already abandoned the idea it would be possible to make the weibo users register? I just guess. The regulators of the Chinese internet have been acting quite smart in the past. Their approach for the GFW is the best you can get. Even though virtually every twelve year old Chinese needs about ten minutes to find out how to get any information on Liu Xiabo available on the internet it still works somehow. The main function of the GFW is not to prevent anyone from reading or writing anything but pretending that something like a national internet is possible. It is like the Great Wall that never kept anyone from entering the territory. Its a demonstration of power and a simulation of safety.

    The thing with weibo is that is perceived by many users as the actual fourth estate. That is very different from facebook. When Chinese internet users want to know something, they read the rumors on weibo, take part in the discussion and wait untill “waimei” reports something. Yes, that has changed, too. “Waimei” is suddenly back in the game.

    It is just my perception but since last summer people started caring about the society. Young people are interested in politics.

    There is a non zero probability that things are going to change very fast in the near future. I always believed that the main force for political decisions of the CCP is not to end up like Ceausescu. Its rather fear than ideology and greed that makes them act. They have noticed the dramatic loss of controlI of the public debate. The agenda is set by the people these days. They know they have to act. I guess they will try to turn their system into something that looks more transparent from the outside, similar to the US – money and political power still combined with more legitimicy.

    Some people say the right times for reformes have already passed. I would say the CCP has to hurry up. My guess: They know that by now. I do not pretend to see the future like Gordon Chang and present a date for general elections but if the Tibetans duck and cover for a while there is a good chance for real political reforms and the birth of a civil society. Yu Hua recently wrote that after 1989 the word “renmin” was without any meaning. There was no such thing as “the people” anymore. It was just a mass. This time is about to be over. There is a new “we” and web 2.0 is the glue.

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  11. It’s the same all around the globe. Politicians do not like the idea that they are not able to stop the open and sometimes very disturbing debate on the internet and present ideas to stop these bad things happening. The problem is that nearly none of them has understood how the internet works. Most ideas end up in the trash bin.

    Anonymouse, if you can’t see the difference between a country under the rule of law (a constitution and separation of power to safeguard it), and a totalitarian state, I don’t think this debate will get us anywhere. It’s not the same all around the globe – that’s actually the core issue. Obviously, nobody can rule out that forces within the party which want to liberalize the country will gain the upper hand some time in the future – that’s indeed no zero-chance probability, but it isn’t a likely one either. The internet will only set the agenda in China, as long as the party either encourages, or tolerates that.

    Liu Xiaobos approach was to radical and Gao Zhisheng is hardly known. … / …. if the Tibetans duck and cover for a while there is a good chance for real political reforms and the birth of a civil society

    I’ll stick to the old Dalai Lama motto here and won’t say how I feel about them – but I’ll say what I think about it: Liu Xiaobo’s approach was to radical not because the agenda-setting people decided it was, but because a court made that decision, and because propaganda – yes, mainstream media matter, and Huanqiu Shibao’s commenter threads bear testimony to that – successfully depicted him as a foreign-controlled enemy of the Chinese people. Gao is unknown because censorship makes sure of that, and because people are scared shitless of Falun-Gong defenders and will think carefully before spreading a word about it.
    As for the Tibetans being supposed to “duck and cover for a while”, for the sake of the good of the country, if I’m getting this right, I believe it is very easy to make such demands on others. If someone asked you to eat insults like these and just “duck”, you’d either hit the roof and disobey, or you’d duck, but at the opportunity costs of accumulating hate that make it impossible to play a constructive role in your country. You can deny this – but I’m telling you in advance that I won’t buy such denial.

    At the moment, the CCP seems to be nervous anyway – but with that nervousness comes a rising amount of warnings of “rumors”. After Hong Kong media reported on March 22 that from the afternoon to the night of March 20, military helicopters had been in the air over Beijing, and that tanks had been spotted in Beijing’s Fengtai District, Huanqiu Shibao felt compelled to publish this editorial. (Might make a translation of it tomorrow.)
    And depending on how nervous Zhongnanhai is, it won’t matter which number of weibo users are in love with the concept of it being a fourth estate – and the GFW is only the best you can get until the CCP comes up with something “better”. The connection between the Chinese internet, and the global networks depends on just a handful of gateways. It is pretty misguided to suggest that the Chinese state isn’t in control of these to whichever degree it wants to be. As I wrote before: Weibo is a commercial venture, and before fines threaten its existence, they will cave in. They have been cooperative in the past, too, however far they needed to.

    I’ll take a break from this discussion for now. Nothing against a thread of several dozens of comments in principal, but I don’t want to contribute to them going in circles. If something you add here looks new to me, I’ll be back.

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  12. TNX. I am waiting for your Huanqiu translation. I didn’t get it all.

    I believe it is a very stupid idea to report extensively on unverified rumors.

    http://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2012-03/china-machtkampf

    It reminds me a lot of the epic fail “jasmin hoax”. False information will only help the CCP propaganda.

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