While micro-blogging sites such as Twitter are in England predominantly the forum for drunk professional footballers to complain in a semi-literate fashion about their wages, it appears some people seem hell-bent on using them for more noble purposes, such as offering a forum for free speech in countries where oppressive states make such freedom of expression a luxury.
So for Chinese citizens it was a blow to hear that Twitter itself was being censored for supposedly helping incite ethic violence in the north western part of the country back in July, although not entirely surprising given the state’s at times less than liberal attitude.
However, a new breed of micro-blogging clone site has emerged in the wake of Twitter’s blacklisting that has grown from almost nothing a year ago to currently tens of million of accounts, known as ‘weibo’ accounts.
It is estimated that the number will hit 65 million this year, according to figures published by the Data Centre for the Chinese Internet, with an estimated 90 per cent of under 40 year olds using an account.
For the Chinese, of which there are a massive 420 million people online, a huge percentage of the population, weibo offers an outlet of mass public expression.
“Weibo’s role is huge,” said Wang Kai to Physorg, a 19 year who gained celebrity status following his reporting of a mudslide which killed 1,500 people.
“It provides you with your own platform for sending out really meaningful microblogs and opinions. I hope it can be used to help people solve problems.”
While it is clear that users of social networking are still under the eye of the state it shows how the ingenuity of ordinary Chinese people has led to authorities playing catch up with the technology, the authorities even hosting their own accounts in a move towards ‘openness’.
However there have already been cases of rebellion against the state’s strict censorship rules, such as a recent case in which an investigative reporter, Qiu Ziming, was forced to go on the run from the authorities following an expose of alleged misdemeanours by a major company.
Ziming then updated to the population via his weibo account which was followed by thousands, drawing such support that his arrest warrant was eventually dropped.