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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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China Digital

Insights into Sesame Credit & Top 5 Ways to Use a High Sesame Score

These are the top ways in which netizens’ high Sesame Credit scores can be used in daily life.

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There’s been much talk about China’s ‘credit score’ recently, with many media conflating the country’s Social Credit System with the commercial Sesame Credit programme. In this article, we will explain the latter: what is Sesame Credit and what can users do with their high score?

Note: for more about the Social Credit System and differences in its media coverage in China and the West, please see this article.

With all the talks about China’s nascent Social Credit system and commercial social credit programmes, it is becoming clear that Chinese netizens are entering a ‘credit lifestyle’ (信用生活).

“All Chinese citizens now have a score,” is an idea that has popped up in many foreign media over the past years, often conflating it with China’s nascent ‘Social Credit System.’ To read more about the Social Credit System see our articles about this here or here. In this article, we will solely focus on Sesame Credit.

On Weibo, the official Sesame Credit account (@芝麻信用), which has over 240,840 followers, often announces new ways for people to profit from their (high) Sesame Credit score.

What’s on Weibo explores and lists five different ways in which a high Sesame Credit score can be used in China today. But first – what actually is Sesame Credit?

 

About Sesame Credit

 

Sesame Credit (Zhīma xìnyòng 芝麻信用) was launched on January 28, 2015, by Alibaba’s Ant Financial, after it had received permission by the PBOC (People’s Bank of China) to be one of the eight Chinese companies to experiment with personal credit reporting.

According to the Sesame Credit company, its major goal is to make credit more widely available to consumers and small business owners, and to “enable credit providers to make holistic and accurate decisions,” while also “empowering merchants to provide more credit-related services.”

Image via http://www.twoeggz.com.

Because Sesame Credit is part of Jack Ma’s Alibaba Group family (Ant Financial is an affiliate of the Chinese Alibaba Group), Sesame Credit has an enormous amount of data at its disposal, from e-commerce sites to finance products. China’s biggest shopping websites Taobao and Tmall belong to Alibaba’s vast online ecosystem, as does payment app Alipay.

It is not mandatory for users to opt into Sesame Credit. Some have compared the system to a loyalty program, although it is a bit more than that. Since 2015, for example, Sesame Credit also cooperates with the popular online dating service company Baihe.com (百合网), so that people can link their dating profile to their credit score. Sesame Credit already had 520 million users as of 2017.

Since its launch, various foreign media have written about Sesame Credit as an ‘Orwellian system.’ Among others, one of the reasons for this, is that Sesame Credit incorporates a publicly available ‘blacklist’ into its scoring process. The ‘blacklist’ is a Chinese courts’ list with the names of people that have an effective court justice against them; inclusion on this list can make users’ existing Sesame Credit drop dramatically, which would make people miss out on all perks of having a high Sesame Score.

Earlier in 2018, Alibaba, along with the seven other private credit programmes that were allowed to run their trial in 2015, become shareholders and active contributors to a new unified platform that has access to an enormous number of personal credit data. At the so-called ‘trust alliance’ (信联) Baihang Credit (百行征信), state level and commercial organizations join forces in further developing China’s credit systems.

 

About the Score

 

Within the Sesame Credit programme, the lowest score one can get is 350. The highest is 950. This score is based on users’ behavior across various platforms. A score of 550 to 600 is an intermediate/normal score. 600-650 is considered a ‘good’ score. Those in the 700-950 range are exceptionally high in score.

For those who first opt-in to Sesame Credit, and who have not had any violations, 600 is usually the score to receive.

Sesame Credit example scores explained, from 385 being in the low range to 731 being in the ‘good’ range.

Some of the important elements the score is allegedly based on, are –

• (35%) general credit history: past payment history and indebtedness – if persons still have enough credit on their credit card when purchasing items, if they pay their gas & electricity on time [often done through Alipay in China], pay violations tickets on time, etc.
• (25%) general financial status/fulfillment capacity: the available amount on users’ Alipay account, if they are renting a car/house etc. and are able to pay for it, status of Huabei (a credit card function within the Alipay wallet), etc.
• (20%) online behavior and preference: the extent to which an account is actively used, how many purchases are done, etc.
• (15%) people’s personal characteristics: educational background, address, real-name registrations, etc.
• (5%) contact network and interpersonal relationships: how many online contacts one has, ones’s influential power in contact list, interactions between user and friends, etc.

For those who opt in to Sesame Credit and have a high score, there are many different ways to benefit from it, as listed below.

 

The Top Ways to Benefit from Sesame Credit

 

Please note that there are more ways to benefit from a high Sesame Credit score, but we have listed five popular ones below.

 

#1 ‘Credit Treatment’ at Hospitals

 

In November of 2017, Sesame Credit first launched its “Credit Medical Treatment” (信用就医) services for people with a score over 650, with Shanghai’s Huashan hospital being the country’s first hospital to implement the function.

With “Credit Medical Treatment,” patients could save up to 60% of waiting time at hospitals by cutting lines and not needing to pay for treatments upfront. Payments are done through Sesame Credit’s in-app credit function Huabei (花呗).

While a normal procedure at Chinese hospitals can be time-consuming, the Sesame Credit procedure is much more efficient, mainly because people do not need to line up to pre-pay for their medical check-up and the medications.

Normal procedure:

(±20 min) 1. Arrive and register at the hospital and pay for it
(±60 min) 2. Waiting time to see a doctor
(±10 min) 3. Doctor’s appointment/consultation
(±20 min) 4. Line up for payment [of examination]
(±20 min) 5. Check-up/Examination
(±20 min) 6. Queue up for payment
(±10 min) 7. Pick up medicine

Image via xinhuanet.

The procedure with Sesame Credit:

(±3 min) 1. Register at hospital and payment by phone.
(±10 min) 2. Automatically get a number to see the doctor.
(±10 min) 3. Doctor’s consultation.
Payment [for examination]
(±20 min) 4. Examination.
Payment [for medicine]
(±10 min) 5. Pick up medicine

There are also other ways in which people with a good Sesame Credit score can enjoy extra services and benefits at hospitals. Those with a score over 600, for example, can rent a wheelchair in hospitals without deposit.

 

#2 Try First, Pay Later

 

Since September 2018, Sesame Credit offers the possibility to “try out” purchases from Tmall for consumers who have a Credit Score of over 700, promoting the idea of “never regretting a purchase.”

With this concept, people can order clothes or other items from e-commerce platform Tmall (天猫 Tiānmāo in Chinese) without any risk, having the guarantee to always being able to send back items that are unsatisfactory without paying for them.

There are also frequent promotions done by brands and companies in collaboration with Sesame Credit, such as offering people with a high credit score (over 750) to try out the newest Ford for three days, or to use the latest Meitu phone for 30 days for free, without necessarily needing to buy it afterward.

Meitu promotion for Sesame Credit users with a score over 750.

Sesame Credit also makes it more tempting for its users to spend money on (Alibaba) platforms in other ways. The higher one’s credit is, the more one is able to lend from online lending service Huabei; those with a credit higher than 750 can lend up to 20,000 RMB (±$2890). Unsurprisingly, the literal translation of Alipay’s ‘online credit card’ service Huabei (花呗) is “Just Spend.”

 

#3 No Deposit on Shared Bikes (and other things)

 

Sesame Credit has a partnership with bike sharing platforms Hello Bike (哈罗单车) and Ofo, allowing users with a credit over 650 points to rent these bicycles, that can be found anywhere in bigger cities in China, without paying a deposit.

It is not the only service that does not require a deposit for those with a high Credit score; using a shared umbrella, or a publicly available shared phone charger, or even renting apartments, often no longer needs a deposit for those with a higher score.

 

#4 Open Access to Libraries

 

In many places in China, people who have a Sesame Credit score over 550 no longer need to pay a downpayment and can set up a library card for free, in other places people with a higher Sesame score no longer need a library card at all to borrow books at their local libraries and/or their automated self-service street libraries (just their ID).

Since April of 2018, this special service for Sesame Credit users (not needing a card) was introduced in the entire Zhejiang province. Public libraries in other places, such as Shanghai, have already been experimenting with Sesame Credit perks for library lovers since 2015.

 

#5 Special Lounges at Train Stations

 

Especially during peak seasons such as the National Day holidays or Spring Festival, China’s train stations can get exceptionally busy. For Sesame Credit members with a score over 650, there are now special lounges to relax.

Sina notes that the lounge is only available to those members who have also bought a higher fair ticket (first class), or who have a platinum status.

By Manya Koetse

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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China Digital

Making China’s Healthcare More Mobile: Wuxi Launches ‘Smart Medical App’

The Wuxi Medical App makes Chinese health care more digital.

Gabi Verberg

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With the trial launch of the Wuxi Smart Medical app [无锡智医APP], patients of eight different Wuxi hospitals can now experiment with navigating their healthcare through mobile.

In late October, the Wuxi Municipal Health Planning Commission launched a trial version of the so-called “Wuxi Smart Medical App” [无锡智医APP] in cooperation with eight hospitals in the city of Wuxi, Jiangsu province – a city with a population of more than six million people.

The app is meant to make the navigation of health services more convenient for both patients and people who work in the medical sector.

According to Wuxi Daily, one of the reasons why the app was designed is to alleviate the widespread problem of long queues at local hospitals.

Especially in China’s bigger cities, many patients have to wait in line for hours or sometimes even days before they can register for an appointment (a process known as guàhào 挂号), and receive medical treatment.

With the free app, users can now efficiently register for a doctor’s appointment at one of the eight cooperating hospitals through their mobile phone, without having to stand in line at the hospital. The app also allows patients to see and pay for their medical bills, check medical information, and see their examination results.

“When I needed medical consultation or treatment, I never knew what department or doctor I had to queue for,” Liu Xingyu (刘星宇), director of the Information Department of the Municipal Health Planning Commission, tells Wuxi Daily: “I was not the only one facing this problem. But with the app, patients can now insert a type of medical issue, their symptoms, etc., and the app will recommend the [relevant] department.”

To get insights into examination results, patients using the app no longer have to spend entire afternoons waiting in the hospital. The app stores all examination results going back one year.

As for the payment of medical fees, the app provides users with a self-service payment option. By following a few steps, people can pay their medical bills on their phone through Alipay.

The Wuxi app is a new app, but the idea of bringing China’s digitalization into the health care system is not new. As reported by Technode, Tencent already launched WeChat Intelligent Healthcare (微信智慧医疗) in 2014, a platform that allows users to do things such as book appointments, make payments, and more, at hospitals and other medical facilities through WeChat public accounts.

China’s healthcare system has also become more digitalized through options offered by some hospitals in China for people with a relatively high score on their Sesame Credit to receive certain ‘perks’, such as being able to skip lines, or use wheelchairs without paying deposits. (For more about Sesame Credit, an opt-in commercial credit programme by Ant Financial (Alipay), also see this article).

Perhaps Wuxi’s trial app will lead the way for other hospitals in China to become more mobile-focused. For now, the Android version of the Wuxi app is available on Huawei and Xiaomi app stores. The iOS version is expected to be available in the Apple Store soon, as is the added option to pay for medical bills through WeChat.

By Gabi Verberg, with contributions by Manya Koetse

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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