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‘Sharenting’ on Chinese Social Media: When Parents Are Posting Too Many Baby Pics on WeChat

‘Shaiwa’ is the Chinese term for ‘Sharenting’ – when does sharing baby pictures on social media become too much?

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It’s called ‘Sharenting’ in English, it’s called ‘Shàiwá’ in Mandarin Chinese, and it’s all about parents sharing (too) many photos of their offspring on social media.

To what extent is it okay to post photos of your baby or children on social media, and when does it become too much? These questions are at the heart of a discussion that has been ongoing on Chinese social media recently, with the hashtag “Should You Be Sharenting on Moments?” (#朋友圈该不该晒娃#) receiving 140 million views on Weibo.

‘Moments’ is WeChat’s social-networking function, that allows users to share photos on their own feed that is visible to their friends, family, and other Wechat contacts.

‘Sharenting’ is a word that was coined to describe the overuse of social media by parents to share content based on their children. Around 2013/2014, the word came to be used more frequently in English-language mainstream media. In Chinese, the term for this phenomenon is ‘shài wá‘ (晒娃), which combines the characters for ‘exposing’ and ‘babies.’

Recently, more articles have popped up in Chinese media that take a critical stance towards parents sharing too much about their children on social media, with some WeChat Moments feeds consisting entirely of photos of children.

 

Sharenting Concerns

 

In English-language media and academic circles, the phenomenon of ‘sharenting’ has been a topic of discussion for years. In 2017, Blum-Ross and Livingstone published a study about the phenomenon, highlighting the concerns over it.

Some of these concerns are that ‘sharenting’ might infringe on children’s right to privacy, that it can be exploitative, is possibly exposing children to pedophiles, and might have consequences in terms of data-mining and facial recognition (110).

For parents, the reasons to share photos of their children online are multifold. It could just be to chronicle their lives and share with friends and relatives, but it could also be because they are part of (online) communities where sharing these photos is part of the shared lifestyle and identity (Blum-Ross & Livingstone 2017, 113).

For some, it is a way to express their creativity and this might also lead to some parents gaining financial benefits from doing so, if they are, for example, bloggers incorporating advertisements or sponsored content on their channels.

Recently, the topic became much discussed in the US after actress Gwyneth Paltrow posted a picture on Instagram in late March of her and her 14-year-old daughter Apple Martin skiing. Apple then responded in the comments sections, saying: “Mom, we have discussed this. You may not post anything without my consent.” The incident sparked discussions on children’s privacy on social media.

 

Whose Choice Is It?

 

In China, there is not just a word for ‘sharenting,’ there is even a word to describe parents who ‘sharent’ like crazy: Shàiwá Kuángmó (晒娃狂魔), meaning something like ‘Sharenting Crazy Devils.’

The phenomenon of sharenting was discussed in Chinese media as early as 2012, when it was mostly the safety issue of ‘sharenting’ that was highlighted: with parents posting photos of their children, along with a lot of personal information, they might unknowingly expose their children to child traffickers, who will easily find out through social media where a child goes to school, and when their parents take them to the park to play.

Recently, discussions on sharenting in China have mainly focused on WeChat as a platform where parents not just post photos of their children, but also post about their school results, their class rankings, and other detailed information. Especially during holidays, WeChat starts flooding with photos of children.

Image via Sina.com

Chinese educational expert Tang Yinghong (唐映红) commented on the issue in a news report by Pear Video, saying that sharenting is a sign of parents missing a certain sense of meaning in their own lives, and letting their children make up for this. Regularly posting about their children’s lives and activities allegedly gives them a certain value, status, and identity.

That they are infringing on the privacy of their children by doing so, Tang argues, is something that a lot of Chinese parents do not even consider. Only if the children agree with their parents sharing their photos, he says, it is okay to do so.

But the majority of commenters do not agree with Tang’s views at all. “So what else are we supposed to post in our ‘Moments’? If we post about our kids, it’s sharenting. If we post about our travels, it’s flaunting wealth. If we post selfies, it’s vanity. We should be free to post what we want in our Moments.”

“Showing off our kids is our own choice, if you don’t want to see it, just block it,” others say.

“He’s not right in what he says. I regularly post my child’s picture. My career is going well and I am happy. The goal of me posting these photos is to keep my WeChat Moments feed alive, and I use it as some sort of photo album,” another Weibo user says.

Some voices do agree with Tang, saying: “First ask your children for permission, they also have their right to privacy.”

 

Kids’ Rights to Privacy

 

But what if the children are too young to give permission? And from what age are they able to really give their consent? The idea of children’s ‘right to privacy’ is a fairly new one in Chinese debates on sharenting. In other countries, these discussions started years ago.

In the Netherlands, sociologists Martje van Ankeren and Katusha Sol argued in a 2011 newspaper article that parents posting photos of their babies and young children on social media are actually infringing on the privacy of their kids, disregarding what sharing the lives of their offspring online might mean for them in the future, just for scoring a few ‘likes’ on Facebook.

The online presence of children often starts from the day they are born now, building throughout their whole childhood. A 2017 UK news article suggested that the average parent shares almost 1,500 images of their child online before their fifth birthday. The baby’s first steps, medical issues, ‘funny’ photos and videos of a child with food smeared all over its face – it’s all out there. But what happens to all these online records?

Van Ankeren and Sol argue that the social media presence of children might affect them in the future. What if they are applying for their dream job, but their potential future employee finds out through online research that they had serious health issues as a child? And how do young adults feel about their new friends and acquaintances being able to view all those embarrassing photos of them as a child that their parents ‘tagged’ them in from before they could even remember?

“Everyone should have the right to choose what kind of information they want to share, and with whom. If your parents already did that for you, you lost your freedom of choice before you were even able to consider it,” Van Ankeren and Sol write.

The case of France made headlines last year, as its privacy laws make it possible for grown-up children to sue their parents for posting photos of them on social networks without their consent, which could potentially result in hefty fines or imprisonment.

In China, the debate on kids’ rights to privacy is not yet gaining much attention within the ‘sharenting’ discussions. Some people, however, do speak out about the issue on social media.

“I understand you want to share pictures of your child on ‘Moments’,” one Weibo user (@寒月之瞳) writes: “However, why do you insist on [also] sharing nude photos of your child? Small kids are also people, they have a right to privacy. The people on your ‘Moments’ are not all people you know very well. Do you really think it’s a good idea to share these photos?”

An article in the Chinese Baby Sina outlet writes: “Parents have to protect the privacy of their kids, before posting a photo of them on the internet, think about how it might influence them.”

For most commenters on Chinese social media, however, posting pictures of their children online is just an innocent pastime: “I post on WeChat Moments every day. If it’s not photos of my child, I post about the dinner I cooked or the parties I attend. WeChat Moments is about sharing your life, and in my life, my child is what matters most. It’s only natural that most of my photos are of my child.”

“People shouldn’t meddle in other’s people’s business. Whether or not I want to post my child’s photos is up to me.”

By Manya Koetse

References

Blum-Ross, Alicia and Sonia Livingstone. 2017. “”Sharenting,” Parent Blogging, and the Boundaries of the Digital Self.” Popular Communication 15 (2): 110-125.

Van Ankeren, Martje and Katusha Sol. 2011. “Willempje wil geen Facebookpagina.” Nov 2, NRC: 12.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please email us.

©2019 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 and Covid19

Xi’an Outbreak Largely Under Control, But Weibo is Grieving the Death of an Unborn Baby

On the 15th day of lockdown, Xi’an has largely brought the Covid19 outbreak under control, but at what cost?

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“Are we really fighting this epidemic to save lives?”, some wonder after Xi’an enters its 16th day of a very strict and sometimes messy lockdown. The story of a pregnant woman having a miscarriage in front of the hospital gate has brought the public’s anger to a boiling point.

On January 4th at around 4.30 pm, a Weibo user nicknamed ‘Don’t Make It Rain Ok’ posted a heartbreaking story on social media about her pregnant aunt, who lost her baby on January 1st when she did not receive medical care in time and was left waiting outside of the hospital. It was one among multiple stories showcasing the struggles faced by thousands of citizens during the Xi’an lockdown, the biggest one in China since Wuhan was shut down in 2020.

While the story about the pregnant woman was top trending on Weibo on Wednesday and Thursday, the Xi’an city government declared that the Covid19 situation in the city of 13 million inhabitants was reaching the phase of “zero in society” (“社会面清零”), meaning that the outbreak was largely contained in the city’s main communities after two weeks of lockdown, during which over 42,000 people were quarantined and brought to other locations.

But rather than cheers of joy, Weibo was dominated by sad stories of people whose lives have been seriously impacted by the restrictions and hurdles they face in times of a lockdown that was mismanaged by local authorities, according to many.

The woman losing her unborn baby because of severely delayed emergency services struck a chord with a lot of netizens. This is a translation of the original post, which was removed from social media without given reason on January 6:

My aunt said on January 1st 2022 at around 7:00 pm that her stomach hurt, so she called 120 [emergency telephone number]. But 120 was constantly busy and there was no way to get through. Only when she called 110 [police] she was taken to Xi’an Gaoxin Hospital (高新医院). After all this, it was already past 8 pm before she arrived, but she eventually was at the entrance and still wasn’t allowed to get in, the delay lasting until after 10 pm – she was told her nucleic acid [test] had exceeded the four-hour time frame. My aunt sat down at the entrance for a while, and because the delay was lasting so long, she was starting to bleed. I saw the video sent by my aunt’s husband, seeing my aunt struggling to support her body with both hands sitting on the chair, blood flowing down the chair and down her pants, the floor was full of blood! Also because of the excessive bleeding, the hospital staff saw it really wasn’t going well and only then was she admitted and taken into the surgery room. As a result of the untimely medical treatment, my aunt had a miscarriage after carrying the baby for eight months. At eight months, the baby died in the womb without a pulse because of wasted time. Originally I was thinking of telling this story on another platform, but I actually just saw in my Moments [WeChat timeline] that a friend posted a screenshot of another story told by someone and I discovered we are not the only ones to go through something like this at this hospital. I just wept. My aunt also has an 11-year old son who is alone by himself, looking after himself, he still doesn’t know what happened to my aunt – he just knows her belly hurt.”

The incident sparked outrage on social media, where one hashtag dedicated to the topic received 780 million views on Thursday alone (#西安孕妇流产事件相关责任人被处理#) after it was publicly announced that the hospital’s general manager Fu Yuhui (范郁会) would be suspended and that the staff responsible for the incident at the outpatient department were fired.

The hospital was ordered to publicly apologize for the incident, and the local Health Commission director also made an apology.

But the apologies did not seem to reduce the anger many expressed online.

“Are we fighting the epidemic to save lives?”, one popular blogger wondered in an article dedicated to the incident (“西安孕妇医院门口流产:抗疫,是为了救命啊“) published on January 6th. The author argues that the ultimate purpose of China’s epidemic prevention and control is to save lives and that a hospital and its staff should do everything in their power to save people’s lives rather than letting them suffer outside of their door with the excuse of ‘epidemic prevention and control.’ In the end, a person’s life is more important than their Health Code and the last time they did a Covid test.

The story of the miscarriage was not the only one going viral these days relating to people not being able to get the medical help they need. One story to go viral on January 3rd was that of one Xi’an resident (@太阳花花花00000) reaching out for help via social media platform Xiaohongshu because her father suffered from chest pains and they could not get through to emergency telephone lines fast enough. The original poster later updated their post to share that he had passed away.

The man’s daughter later clarified in the media that her father was refused access to medical services at multiple hospitals before he also encountered issues at Gaoxin Hospital where he did receive treatment at 10pm – an astonishing eight hours after reaching out to emergency services. He reportedly passed away due to the severe delay in this treatment (#西安网友称父亲被多家医院拒诊后离世#).

Then there was another pregnant woman (@A有雨有晴天) who allegedly suffered a miscarriage after being refused to be taken to the hospital (#西安又一孕妇流产 警察护送被拒诊#). She came out with her story on January 5th, but it happened on December 29th. The woman claims that she sought help but that various hospitals refused to take her in during the extreme lockdown circumstances.

On January 5th and 6th, the death of a 39-year-old man also sparked online anger. According to online reports, the man could not get through to emergency services on December 31st while suffering from severe chest pains. He was refused to be taken in by two hospitals because he supposedly did not have a current negative Covid19 test result. He died shortly after being taken in by a third hospital. A hashtag dedicated to the incident received over 150 million views on January 6 (#西安一男子连续被3家医院拒诊最终猝死#).

“Help the helpless!”, some on Weibo wrote: “What would you do if these were your loved ones?!”

“How many people have passed away due to this kind of ‘prevention and control’?”, other commenters wondered: “What is wrong with the Xi’an authorities?”

Besides the staff fired at the Gaoxin Hospital, the Municipal Discipline Inspection Commission reportedly also gave official warnings to the local deputy secretary and Xi’an Emergency Center director Li Qiang (李强) and local Health Commission director Liu Shunzhi (刘顺智) for not properly fulfilling their duties regarding emergency work during the lockdown.

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 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

Will Weibo Become 30% State-Media Owned?

Alibaba is allegedly ready to give up its Weibo shares to SMG.

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Bloomberg recently reported that Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is preparing to sell its 30% stake in social media platform Weibo. According to people familiar with the matter, Alibaba is negotiating with the state-owned Shanghai Media Group (SMG).

News about Alibaba planning to sell all of its Weibo shares has triggered some online discussions on the Chinese social media platform. Bloomberg was the first to report that the Chinese e-commerce and IT enterprise is talking to the state-owned Shanghai Media Group (SMG) to sell all of its 30% stake in Weibo.

According to Bloomberg, the move relates to regulators wanting to curb the influence of Chinese tech giants in the media sphere. The Bloomberg article claims that SMG, as one of China’s largest state-owned media and cultural conglomerates, stands a higher chance of gaining the approval of Chinese authorities than a private acquirer.

SMG is a large state-owned enterprise with over a dozen TV and radio stations, many newspapers and magazines, various drama & film production and distribution businesses, and more. The company has a major media influence, not only in Shanghai but throughout the country.

According to Weibo’s 2020 annual reports, New Wave held a 45% stake in Weibo, followed by Alibaba with its 30%. New Wave is the holding company by Weibo chairman Charles Chao.

“Weibo will change into another channel for SMG,” some Weibo users predict, with others also sharing their fear that Weibo would become more and more like a platform for official media (“微博现在越来越官方化”).

“This would be a big milestone in the crumbling of Alibaba’s media empire,” another commenter wrote. Some wonder if the developments have more to do with Weibo as a platform, or with Alibaba and its media influence.

In March of 2021, the Wall Street Journal already reported that the Chinese government asked the Alibaba Group to dispose of its media assets due to concerns over the company’s influence in the sensitive media sphere.

“When Alibaba exits and state-owned capital enters, Weibo is expected to magnificently transform into a ‘state-owned enterprise’,” another Weibo user wrote.

Although some commenters worry that Weibo will change for the worse and that there will be more censorship, others see a sunnier future for the social media platform: “It would be good for Weibo to be ‘state-owned’ so that it won’t be controlled by capital to influence public opinion anymore.”

Chinese tech site 36kr also reported about the issue on January 1st, but neither Weibo nor Alibaba or SGM have officially responded yet.

By Manya Koetse

With contributions by Miranda Barnes.

Spotted a mistake or want to add something? Please let us know in comments below or email us. First-time commenters, please be patient – we will have to manually approve your comment before it appears.

©2021 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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