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Free Weibo – Celebrating the Freedom of Weibo

Fighting for freedom of speech in the censored world of Weibo – that is the mission of Free Weibo, a platform that uncovers all the search terms blocked on Sina Weibo.

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Fighting for freedom of speech in the censored world of Weibo – that is the mission of Free Weibo, a platform that uncovers all the search terms blocked on Sina Weibo.

Several countries around Europe celebrate freedom this month, as it has been exactly seventy years since the end of WWII. With the commemoration of war in the past and recurring terrorist attacks in the present, press freedom and freedom of speech have become the focus of debate, with   some arguing that “you’re either for free speech or for censorship”. Over 50 organisations called on governments this month to protect freedom of expression on World Press Freedom Day.

On the other side of the scale, there is North Korea and, a little closer to the West, China. Although modern-day China allows considerable freedom of speech, censorship remains tight. China’s social media platforms, such as Sina Weibo or Tencent’s Weixin, have given Chinese netizens more freedom and opportunities to express their opinion on various topics. Nevertheless, online censorship is more alive than ever. Approximately 12% of all ‘weibos’ (‘micro-blogs’ or ‘tweets’) are filtered by online censors, and China’s 642-something-million Internet users are posting less because of it.

 

“The centralized control of information is scary.”

 

Combating the Great Firewall of China, Free Weibo was launched in 2012. Free Weibo is a search engine that allows users to look for search topics that are blocked on Sina Weibo. It gathers data both directly from Sina Weibo and from WeiboScope, a project by the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong. “I think the centralized control of information is scary,” one of the anonymous cyberactivists of Free Weibo told TechinAsia in the year it was launched: “The more freedom of speech, the better”. Free Weibo does not only raise awareness for online censorship, it is also a rich source of information for researchers, journalists and curious netizens who want to know more about what is blocked on Weibo. Free Weibo is not the first platform to reveal Weibo’s censored content; Blocked on Weibo also documents what is not found on China’s most important social media site.

Ever since the launch of Weibo in 2009, China’s social media watchers have continuously noted its see-saw play between freedom of expression and censorship. With each new technology, from the more public Weibo to relatively private Weixin, netizens find novel ways to express their thoughts and ideas, and the leadership has to decide whether or not (and how) to counter these new developments. China’s recent ban on wordplay is a telling example. This law, that prohibits internet slang and the playful adaptation of Chinese proverbs, supposedly was implemented to help children learn proper use of language. But adapted Chinese proverbs and slang are also used in all kinds of (online) communication, and putting a ban on them enables authorities to incriminate people on the basis of ‘creative use of language’.

Free Weibo provides an overview of hot blocked content and topics on its homepage. Recent censored topics include Xu Chunhe, the man that was shot to death by a policeman in Northeast China on May 2, or the student protests on Tiananmen in 1989 – its anniversary is coming up on June 6th, a time when online censorship becomes extra tight. Not all topics are politically sensitive; pictures that expose nipples are removed as well – in that perspective, Sina Weibo and Facebook or Instagram have the same rules on nudity, although the latter are arguably even stricter on so-called decency guidelines.

It almost goes without saying that the website Free Weibo has been blocked in China. Even so, the website ensures that censored topics are revealed and read by netizens all over the world. The site was nominated for the RNW Digital Activism Award in 2014.

 

“Who are you to tell me that I should be happy with what I have?”

 

In Cyber-Nationalism in China (2012), Ying Jiang challenges Western media portrayals of censorship in China, arguing that China’s Internet environment and economic growth has created many opportunities, and that “the majority of present-day Chinese people tend to be satisfied with the existing more relaxed, though still limited, freedom of expression” (63). One of the anonymous co-founders of Free Weibo does not agree: “(..) I don’t share your view (..)”, the cyberactivist says: “(..) that Chinese are ‘happy with the status quo’. Who are you or who is anybody else to tell me that I should be happy with what I have? It’s not enough that I can make stupid jokes on social media and not get censored.” Regardless of whether or not millions of Chinese netizens are satisfied with China’s modern online environment and the opportunities/limitations it offers, Free Weibo’s founders are determined to fight for freedom of speech, and celebrate a free Weibo. They still have a long road ahead. As one of the co-founders writes: “When I want to talk about how pollution is killing my kids on my microblog, I get a knock on my door. I don’t think that’s right.”

 

By Manya Koetse & Maaike de Wijs

 

©2015 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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Manya Koetse is the editor-in-chief of www.whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer and consultant (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends in China, with a focus on social media and digital developments, popular culture, and gender issues. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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Privacy or Convenience? Forced Deletion of WeChat Contacts Generates Surprising Reaction from Chinese Netizens

The story of an aggrieved employee forced to delete his WeChat contacts by his boss has brought more applause than outrage on the Chinese Internet. 

Gabi Verberg

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The case of an employer, abusing her power to make one of her employees delete all his colleagues from WeChat, became a hot topic on Chinese social media earlier this week. As the news hit over 350 million views, few netizens worried about the employees’ deprivation of privacy and more discuss the advantages of being forced to clean up your WeChat contacts.

On November 18, the hashtag “Prior to Resignation, Employee Is Required to Delete Colleagues from WeChat” (#辞职先删同事微信#) went viral on Chinese social media, racking over 350 millions views.

On July 26, a Ping’an Life Insurance Company (平安人寿保险公司) employee, surname Wang, handed in his letter of resignation. To complete the resignation process, his employer, surname Kou, demanded he delete all the contacts of Ping’an co-workers from his WeChat. Wang complied and moved without a fuss, but not for long.

Unable to ignore his unease at the way he had been treated, Wang inquired the HR department of Ping’an on the resignation procedure, only to find that deletion of one’s co-workers’ WeChat contacts is in no way obligatory.

Feeling aggrieved at having had his privacy infringed upon, Wang repeatedly tried to get an apology from his former employer, even turning in a letter of complaint to the Sichuan Bank and Insurance Regulation Bureau (四川银保监局). However, the apology never arrived –that is, until the matter caught the attention of Chinese netizens.

Letter of complaint

Red Star News (红星新闻) was the first media outlet to obtain a statement from Kou on the incident.

Though she did not deny asking Wang to delete his contacts, she denied having forced him to do so: “He is 1.80 meters tall, and I am only a little taller than 1.50 meter. If he hadn’t agreed to cooperate, I would never have been able to force him,” observed Kou.

She went on to explain that the decision was for the benefit of the company. With competing insurance companies constantly snapping up each other’s employees, Kou believed Wang’s possible defection to one of Ping’an’s rivals would have a demoralizing effect on her team.

“Wang was employed with us for three years,” said Kou: “I brought him into this industry, taught him how to seal the deal and keep a good relationship with customers. To educate somebody in this industry is not an easy job.”

 

WeChat “friends” are anything but friends.

 

Fortunately for Kou, many netizens construed the incident as a disguised cure for a perpetual problem all WeChat users face – WeChat “friends” that are anything but friends.

“If your relationship with a colleague is good, add him back. If the relationship is not good, then don’t. It will only clean up your phone,” one netizen commented.

Another Weibo user, ignoring Wang’s grievances, observed: “This is perfect, now you don’t need a reason to finally delete those people you don’t like.”

Granted, there were some who criticized Kou’s handling of the situation, viewing the incident as an indictment of the at times sketchy insurance industry. However, many showed empathy towards Kou’s predicament, one netizen asserting that “Kou is just scared  [Wang] will take other colleagues to his new company.”

In any case, the general consensus is not in Wang’s favor; netizens mostly agree that it is not unreasonable for companies to demand employees who just resigned to withdraw from any “work group chats.”

On November 19, the day after the news went viral, Ping’an issued a letter of clarification saying they regretted the situation was handled, followed a hand-written letter of apology from Kou, who acknowledged her lack of consideration.

Apology letter by Kou.

This was enough to satisfy Wang it seems, as both letters mention that all parties had now settled the issue.

By Gabi Verberg, edited by Eduardo Baptista.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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Top 8 Scams in China to Watch Out for (2018)

From oldskool scams to WeChat scams – people are still falling for this every single day.

Gabi Verberg

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As times change, so do scams. In an age of smartphones and social media, Chinese scammers are more prone to abandon old tricks and use new technology for their swindling business. But in a time of more digital scams, there are also still scammers who use people’s inexperience and desperation to earn money by simply fooling them on the streets. Here’s a top 8 of 2018 [check out top 10 China scams in 2015 here].

With the rapidly increasing number of online transactions in China, the persisting problem of counterfeit money scams in China may now be less of a problem than it was before. But other scams are on the rise.

Although people are now less vulnerable to scams involving cash money, services as WeChat wallet and Alipay are also not without peril. Over the years, scammers have developed numerous ways to cheat people and steal money from WeChat or Alipay wallets.

From infecting smartphones with viruses, to letting people “voluntarily” hand over their personal information, scammers have found ways to trick people from all ages and all layers of society.

As a follow-up to an earlier top 10 we did on scams in China, What’s on Weibo has compiled a list of 8 scams that are recently trending on social media or in the Chinese newspapers.

 

#1 WeChat Scams: Hacking Accounts

 

With over 800 million users of WeChat Pay in China, WeChat users are a lucrative target for scammers. In recent years, there have been various cases of WeChat scams, in which hackers of private accounts pretend to be a friend or family member, and convince others to send them money.

Last summer, the news went viral of Chinese parents becoming a victim of scammers pretending to be their children.

Image via http://www.sohu.com/a/201988031_689129

These hackers, using the children’s accounts, told ‘their parents’ that they had to attend a special course or lecture, often held by professors from renowned universities such as Tsinghua or Beijing University. Once the scammer convinced the parent to pay for the extra curriculum activity, the scammers send the contact information of the “teachers” in charge of the event.

Once the parents added the “teachers'” to WeChat and transferred the money, the scammers continued to get parents to pay for all sorts of things such as service fees, registration fees, supply fees, etc.

In other more extreme examples, parents were asked to follow a link to complete the payment. The link installed a virus onto the parent’s phone, allowing the scammer to have full access to the victim’s WeChat wallet.

 

#2 Voice Scams: Imitation Champions

 

Another rising problem that China and many other countries are currently facing is the issue of so-called ‘voice scams.’ Often done through WeChat, scammers collect a person’s voice messages and then pretend to be this person by imitating his or her voice.

The scammers will then make a fake WeChat account that is an exact copy of the one they are imitating. They will contact family members and friends of the person they are imitating, and ask to borrow money. Because the voices sound so much alike, they often win the trust of people and get them to send the money.

Image via http://www.sohu.com/a/201988031_689129

In one extreme case, a young man’s voice was imitated so well that scammers were able to convince the man’s mother that her son was abducted. In a complete panic, the mother transferred the demanded ransom.

In all cases, the police advise people to always confirm face-to-face with the other person before sending money. Additionally, they also warn people should be on their guard sharing voice messages or any other form of personal information with strangers.

 

#3 Delivery Scams: Too Many Packages

 

As easy and convenient online shopping might seem, it is not without danger. Just as with WeChat scams, there are many ways in which scammers will try to find weak points within the system.

One of the issues that makes people more vulnerable to scams within the world of online shopping is that many people order so many products online, that they are more likely to believe that a package is theirs – even if they have never actually ordered it.

The most common online shopping scam involves “cash on delivery,” where the courier asks people to pay upon delivery. Once opening the packaging, people discover their package is actually empty.

In another version, scammers will first call the victim pretending to be their neighbor. They will ask them to do them a favor and accept a package, since they are not able to be home on time to accept it themselves. This way, people are even more likely to accept the package.

In yet another scam, often referred to as the “compensation scam,” scammers call customers and pretend to be employees of a delivery company. On the phone, they will tell that one of their carriers accidentally lost or damaged the ordered product and that they want to compensate for the loss. The only thing the victim has to do is to fill out an online “compensation form” for which personal information and bank information is required. With this information, the scammers can easily break into their victim’s bank account.

In some cases, scammers ask customers to add a WeChat account so they can be compensated for their ‘loss’. In the final step, they will require them to scan a QR-code, or click a link, and to transfer a small ‘service’ fee. Once they have transferred the fee, a virus will be installed on their phone, allowing the scammers to access their WeChat wallet.

Delivery companies advise their customers not to accept any package if they are not sure they have actually ordered it. With cash delivery packages, customers are advised to always check the package before sending the courier away.

About lost or damaged packages: delivery companies will never ask you to fill out a compensation form or share any personal or bank information. In case the delivery company loses or damages your order, the company you bought it from will then inform you and transfer the money back to your bank account.

 

#4 Catching Red Envelopes

 

Snatching ‘red envelopes’, qiǎng hóngbāo (抢红包) in Chinese, originated from China’s long-standing tradition of giving red envelopes to children to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

However, as the tradition of giving red envelopes is transforming from offline to online, the new phenomenon of ‘snatching red envelopes’ has also become more ubiquitous.

Through WeChat, people can send red envelopes to a group of friends: the (few) people who are first in opening that envelope will then receive an amount of money. Companies often use this feature as a marketing tool.

Scammers also make use of this red envelope craze. The ‘red envelop scam’ starts with a message via one of one’s WeChat contacts, reading something like: “I just discovered a group and the host of the group is going crazy! He keeps sending red envelopes! Add yourself to the group and snatch some envelopes.” This message will often be followed by a message telling you that you will be rewarded money when you add more people to the group.

Image via http://www.tanmizhi.com/html/4445.html

Within a few minutes, the group chat has added hundreds of people. As members increase, the group owner will encourage people to add more people to the group by keeping on sending red envelopes. In the meantime, the group owner will send out a message saying that the ones who already opened an envelope are registered. In case they do not add ten people to the group within 30 minutes they will be kicked out. As for those who add 20 people to the group within half an hour, they will be rewarded even more money.

This way, people will keep adding contacts to the group. And because it is not allowed to talk in the group, people are also not able to warn each other of its potential dangers, because, at this point, the red envelopes will actually change into QR codes – the group owner will post a message saying that his transactions surpassed the transactions limit of the day and that if people want to continue receiving money, they will have to scan the QR-code and pay the symbolic amount of one yuan ($0.14). If they do so, they are promised to be rewarded with a high amount of money.

Once these people pay the one yuan, they have been scammed: through the QR code, the scammers have installed a virus into their WeChat, allowing them to empty their WeChat wallet. There are many versions to this kind of “red envelope” and “free money” scams. To avoid being scammed, it is best to remember that there is no such thing as getting money for nothing – there’s always a price to be paid.

 

#5 Winning Lottery-Ticket Scam

 

For the “winning lottery ticket scam,” scammers play with people’s minds. And no matter how simple this trick may seem, it is a worldwide phenomenon.

The scam starts with the victim finding a lottery ticket that has intentionally been placed somewhere. Since the owner of the lottery ticket is nowhere to be found, most people finding the ticket then call the number registered on the ticket to find out whether or not the ticket won a price. And, of course, they are told that the found ticket is indeed a ‘prize-winning’ ticket.

Because people, at this point, are so excited about their unexpected ‘luck’, they often no longer keep their mind straight. The scammer on the phone will inform the lucky finder that they only need to pay a handling fee before they can receive their prize money.

In some cases, the scammers even convince the victim to pay an income tax before receiving the prize money. Once the lucky winner paid the handling fee or income tax [via WeChat or Alipay], the connection will be cut off, and of course, the victim will never get the prize.

 

#6 Found Wallet Scam

 

You are walking outside, and suddenly you find a wallet on the streets – the owner is already out of sight. As you stand still with the wallet in your hand, a stranger comes up to you accusing you of stealing money from that found wallet.

It is a scam that frequently occurs in China, and it is easy to imagine that someone who just found a wallet might feel awkward about the situation, especially when accused of trying to steal the money inside of the wallet.

While explaining that they did not intend on trying to steal money, the stranger will intimidate the finder to give him some of the cash inside to settle the matter. Many people will do so in order to avoid a public scene.

But that is not the end of the scam, as the ‘owner’ of the wallet will then suddenly pop up, asking for his wallet, and discovering that some money inside is missing. The ‘finder’ will then compensate for that loss to get themselves out of the humiliating situation.

Obviously, the two men – the ‘bad guy’ demanding the money and the person who lost the wallet – work together in setting people up like this. Police advise people who find a wallet to turn it in at the closest police station.

Netease has reconstructed the scam on a video here.

 

#7 Fake Job Scam

 

One of the most common scams in China nowadays is the so-called “fake job scam.” Scammers will place fake job ads, and meet responders outside a company office for their ‘job interview.’

In most cases, the applicant is ‘hired’ immediately after the job interview. But before they can get to work, they first have to pass a medical test at a designated ‘research center.’ The victim is then told that he has to pay for the transportation and medical fees, and that the money will be reimbursed at the end of the first working month.

In many cases, victims also pay for service costs and forward a deposit for cards that allow them into the office, etc. When all these fees are paid, the ‘company’ can no longer be contacted and is suddenly untraceable.

To avoid people from getting tricked into these fake job scams, police advise to only reply to job ads with a registered phone number and official company address.

 

#8 Trap Loans: A Mountain of Loans

 

The problem of ‘trap loans’ has received much media attention in China over recent years. Earlier this year the story of one woman went viral; she borrowed 2,000 yuan ($292) and ended up with a 150,000 yuan ($21.872) debt two months later.

She is just of among many victims of China’s “trap loans.” In various other cases reported by the media, people end up in such huge debts and depression, that they take their own lives.

Scammers specifically target people who are temporarily short of cash. It often starts with an individual lender offering a quick loan, only for a few days, in the name of a small loaning company (小额贷款公司). Once the person tells the loaning company they need credit, a lender will come up with a contract that has blank spaces in them. The contract is often so long and complicated that people don’t read it through carefully enough.

When the contract is signed, the loaning company will insert extra information into the blank spaces of the signed contract. They will, for example, change the time you are allowed to borrow money, the interest rate, or the name of the lender.

In the next phase, the loaning company will purposely make the borrower breach the contract by, for example, temporarily being out of service or unreachable, so that the borrower is not able to pay off his debts as recorded in the agreement. They will then face the sum of accumulated interest on the borrowed money, and fines for overdue payments.

Around this time, the lender will introduce the borrowers to another loaning company where they can take out more loans to pay off the debts of the first contract. This can go on for many years and many contracts. The borrower will not be able to repay the entire sum of borrowed money, so keeps on paying huge interest rates and fines for overdue payments.

There have been reports of trap loans in various forms such as campus loans, where students are tricked into ‘easy money loans’ by on-campus advertisements; or naked loans, where scammers demand people to send a (partly) nude picture of themselves holding their ID as collateral. Often this photo will later be used to blackmail a person.

Want to read more? Also check out our previous ‘Top 10 Scams to Watch Out For in China‘.

By Gabi Verberg

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us.

©2018 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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What’s on Weibo provides social, cultural & historical insights into an ever-changing China. What’s on Weibo sheds light on China’s digital media landscape and brings the story behind the hashtag. This independent news site is managed by sinologist Manya Koetse. Contact info@whatsonweibo.com. ©2014-2018

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