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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.

Manya Koetse

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READING TIME: 4 MINUTES, 1 SECOND

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.

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

TikTok’s In-Video Search Function (And How to Activate It)

TikTok shows a glimpse of what in-video search is going to look like in the future.

Manya Koetse

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What is TikTok’s new in-video search function and how to activate it?

Twitter’s most awesome WeChat guru Matthew Brennan recently posted about an “in-video search function” launched in the Chinese social video app TikTok (抖音). (Click here to read about the difference between the Chinese and overseas version of TikTok).

As shown in a video posted by Brennan, the function allows TikTok users to select the face or clothes of a person appearing in a short video to search for other videos or images containing the same person or clothes.

The ‘vision search’ is a powerful new function within the super popular app.

The idea is that it becomes easier than ever for Tiktok users to find (and buy!) a piece of clothing, that perfect handbag, or even a snack featured in a video.

It also helps users to quickly find other videos in which an online celebrity appears. The function ultimately is an additional feature that keeps users scrolling and shopping within the app – increasing app traffic – as long as possible.

On September 16, Chinese media reported about the function as a “powerful” new tool that greatly strengthens the functionality of the popular short video app.

The function might not immediately seem completely new to Chinese app users; like Google Image Search, Baidu and Taobao also have similar functions (百度识图, 淘宝识图).

On e-commerce platform Taobao, for example, you can take a photo of an item you want (e.g. a certain snack as in example below) and Taobao will try to find the exact same product and list the online stores where you can buy it.

But TikTok’s in-video search function is on a whole new level; it does not require users to scan or upload a photo at all. It gives an indication of what visual search will be like in the future.

Whatever video comes by in your TikTok stream, you only need to click the “search” function (识图), select the part of the video you want to search for (you can drag the square from area to area), and TikTok will find the product or face you’re looking for – as long as there are comparable products/faces (it does so very fast).

Very much like Taobao, TikTok will recommend various (in-app) online stores where the product can be purchased.

Want to try out the function? For now, it only works in the Chinese version of the app and is still in the ‘testing phase’ and does not work with all videos.

Make sure you have an updated version of TikTok.

1. Go to “me” (我) page within TikTok
2. Tick the three lines in the top right corner
3. Go to the last option in the sidebar menu titled “lab” (实验室)
4. Activate the function (image below).

So now if you spot a dress you like and would like to buy, press the ‘search’ button on the right of a video, select the dress, and TikTok becomes like your personal shopping assistant looking for similar dresses for you.

Tiktok makes shopping supereasy.

This really makes online shopping more addictive than ever, and also makes it more difficult for people in online videos to hide where they bought their clothing, or what other videos they are in.

Read more about Tiktok here.
Read more about Chinese apps here.

By Manya Koetse

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

©2019 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

Didi Riders Can Now Have “Verified Party Members” Drive Them Around

Party-building 3.0? Didi has got it covered.

Manya Koetse

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First published

This is Party-building in the new era: Didi now allows users of its Premier Car Service to let a verified Party member drive them to their destination.

On September 20, as the People’s Republic of China is nearing its 70th-anniversary celebrations, the country’s most popular taxi-hailing app Didi published an article on Weibo and WeChat explaining its verified Party Member Driver Program.

Recently, riders in Beijing may have noticed something different at Didi’s Premier Car service, which is called “Licheng” 礼橙专车 since June of last year.

Some of Licheng’s drivers now have a red background to their profile photos accompanied by a Communist Party emblem. Upon clicking the profile of these drivers, customers will see that this driver is a Party Member Driver (“党员司机”) – meaning that the Didi driver’s status as a Party member has been verified through Didi’s “Red Flag Steering Wheel” program (红旗方向盘项目) that was set up in November 2018.

Didi’s “Red Flag Steering Wheel” program (红旗方向盘项目) that was set up in November 2018. Image via Guancha.

Didi writes that these drivers can also be identified as Party members through the red sticker on the dashboard at the passenger side, which literally says “Party member driver.”

The article explains that the recent project is an effort to contribute to China’s Party-building in the digital era, and that Didi aims to establish a Party member community within its company.

This car is driven by a Party member (image via Didi/Weibo).

The company is apparently planning to make this community a lively one, as it promises to provide online and offline activities that will help these drivers stay up to date with the latest developments within the Party, and that will increase their “Party awareness.”

Starting this month, Didi will reportedly also offer “patriotic classes” to all of its drivers via its online classroom program.

China has more than 88 million Party members. Party membership does not come overnight; those who want to become a Communist Party member need to attend Party courses, pass written tests, be recommended by other members, and pass a screening (read more here).

As for now, riders cannot manually pick to have a Party member as their driver; a nearby driver will be automatically selected when they order a car – if it is a Party member, they will know straight away from the driver’s profile.

For now, Didi has set up “mobile Party branches” in Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and a number of other cities.

On Weibo, some see the initiative as a marketing move from Didi’s side. “If you hear the driver is a Party member, you know it’s reliable. It’s a good thing.”

The past year was a tough year for Didi, after the murders of two young women by their Didi driver made national headlines, causing outrage and concerns about customer’s safety when hailing a car through the Didi company.

By Manya Koetse

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

©2019 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com

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