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Weibo’s Revival: Sina Weibo Is China’s Twitter, YouTube & InstaGram

With 390 million monthly users, Sina Weibo is seeing a huge revival.

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With 390 million monthly users, Sina Weibo is seeing a huge revival. What was once called ‘China’s Twitter’ has now become a comprehensive platform that incorporates the major features of social media channels like Twitter, YouTube, and InstaGram.

According to new Chinese mobile internet data reports, Sina Weibo‘s monthly active users (MAU) reached 390 million in September 2016 (source: Questmobile/Sina, Huxiu.com).

With these numbers, Sina Weibo became the fourth most-used mobile application of China in the autumn of 2016 after WeChat, QQ and mobile Taobao. Over 90% of Weibo users access the site through mobile.

Weibo’s huge revival

Weibo’s staggering MAU numbers show a sharp increase since last year, when the micro-blogging platform hit 212 million monthly active users.

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Weibo listed as China’s fourth most popular app (via People’s Daily).

Weibo’s growth in monthly active users may come as a surprise to many, since a lot of media (such as the BBC) wrote that the social media network was on its way out in 2015. With the rising popularity of Tencent’s WeChat, many Chinese media also predicted that Weibo was over.

But Weibo is anything but dead – the social media site is currently seeing a huge revival. According to Sina Weibo CEO Cao Guowei (曹国伟), Weibo’s high user rate can be explained by the fact that Sina Weibo is now becoming a platform that successfully combines the best features of different western social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

More than Twitter

Weibo is often explained as the ‘Chinese Twitter’. Like Twitter, Weibo also works as a follower/followee microblogging network. (Sina Weibo originally also had a 140-character limit for posts, but this limit was removed earlier in 2016.)

But Weibo is much more today than what it was when it launched in 2009. With an explosive growth of short video and live broadcasts, virtually all posts on Weibo now come with audiovisual content and/or pictures. The site is now all about microblogging (like Twitter), sharing pictures (like Instagram), and videos (like YouTube).

Sina Weibo partnered up with video sharing app Miaopai in late 2013, which allows users to post videos to their timeline and play them from there – similar to Facebook’s video function. Livestreaming also has become an important Weibo feature.

According to CEO Cao Guowei, another important Weibo function that has contributed to its revival is the ‘interest search function’, which allows users to browse their specific interest categories within Weibo, and the automatic recommendations based on user interests. These functions further promote the social interaction between users.

Sina Weibo CEO Cao Guowei (picture via Tencent).

Sina Weibo CEO Cao Guowei (picture via Tencent).

On Weibo, it is all about sharing information, both user generated content and professional media content: “The active information ecology is at the base of Weibo’s revival,” Cao says in a recent interview with Sina Tech.

Celebrity economy

Weibo is an important news source for its users, but the platform’s growth is also connected to China’s booming celebrity economy.

‘Online celebrity marketing’ or ‘cyberstar economy’ is alive and kicking on Weibo, where self-made celebrities are mushrooming. Papi Jiang is the best example of how quickly Chinese netizens can become huge celebrities through social media.

Papi Jiang, the biggest Chinese online celebrity of 2016.

Papi Jiang, the biggest Chinese online celebrity of 2016.

China’s so-called ‘Big V’s’ – popular microbloggers who have a ‘v’ behind their name as their accounts have been verified by Weibo – are worth big money. These social media celebrities vary from comedians to fashion bloggers or make-up stylists. Some Chinese online celebrities have just become famous because they blog a lot or have an extraordinary appearance.

These online stars offer great marketing potential for brands because they have a huge following, much influence, and often the right target audiences. While Weibo helps online celebrities grow big, these online celebrities also help Weibo by boosting the number of active Weibo users.

In an interview with People’s Daily, Cao Guowei expresses his content over Weibo’s success. It is clear that it is not the end of Weibo. “This is just the beginning,” Cao said: “And the future of Weibo is only getting better.”

– By Manya Koetse
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©2016 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

Manya Koetse is the founder and editor-in-chief of whatsonweibo.com. She is a writer, public speaker, and researcher (Sinologist, MPhil) on social trends, digital developments, and new media in an ever-changing China, with a focus on Chinese society, pop culture, and gender issues. She shares her love for hotpot on hotpotambassador.com. Contact at manya@whatsonweibo.com, or follow on Twitter.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Ed Sander

    November 20, 2016 at 10:18 pm

    After the arrest of ‘big V’ Charles Xue in the summer of 2013 new legislation was passed that made spreading of rumours – with the CCP defining what is and isn’t a rumour – punishable with up to 3 years in prison. Weibo very quickly dead out in the months after. Many, among whom myself, thought that this would be the end of Weibo, which up till then had been a platform where the public could have its say (as long as it didn’t mobilize and criticize the central government) and expose corrupt local officials through ‘human flesh search engines’, an era that started with the Wenzhou train crash. Figures from 2014 seemed to confirm the decline of Weibo (e.g. http://www.chinainternetwatch.com/8829/weibo-aug-2014/). However in early 2015 more positive statistics began to appear (e.g. http://socialbrandwatch.com/weibo-has-stunning-2014/) and since then I haven’t seen much negative news about Weibo. The contradicting sources were gone and Weibo indeed seemed to be in a great revival, which now nobody can deny anymore.

    Having said that, the plarform hasn’t just changed in functionality but also in type of content. The height of the online citizen movement of the 2011-2013 (a highly interesting period for social media during which I lived in China) has been replaced by gossip news about the stars, with divorces of moviestars and their cheating wifes now being the most popular topics. And that’s exactly how the CCP likes it: panem et circenses. Weibo has survived and revived but at the same time Weibo is also very much dead and decomposing.

  2. Shelly

    November 23, 2016 at 11:24 am

  3. overseaschinese

    December 4, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    There are a plethora of features on Weibo that completely supersedes anything that we see on Instagram, Twitter or Youtube.

    Even Wechat is much more superior than Facebook.

    If it’s anything like, we can already say that Facebook is trying to be like Wechat. Twitter is trying to be like Weibo.

    Let’s not fool ourselves, these Chinese apps is cashing in, while the US-based ones are struggling to monetise.

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China Digital

Uh Oh, IP: Chinese Social Media Platforms Now Display Users’ Geolocation

From Weibo to Zhihu, Chinese social media platforms now display netizens’ geolocation to ensure a ‘healthy online environment.’

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Over the past few days, Chinese social media platforms have started to introduce a new function that displays the IP location of online commenters.

Weibo was the first platform to introduce the function on Thursday – the topic also became top trending on April 28 – and social media platforms Douyin, Toutiao, Xiaohongshu and others followed later. Zhihu announced the measure on April 30 (#知乎宣布全面上线显示用户IP属地#).

Weibo has experimented with the function since March 22 of this year before completely rolling it out on April 28. Whenever users post a reply or comment to a thread, their Internet Protocol (IP) address location will be displayed underneath their comment, right next to the post date and time information. The location will also be displayed on the personal account page of Weibo users.

According to Sina Weibo, the function was introduced to ensure a “healthy and orderly discussion atmosphere” on the platform and to reduce the spread of fake news and invidious rumors by people pretending to be part of an issue or city that they are actually not part of. To keep online discussions “authentic and transparent,” social media users’ specific region, city, province, or country will show up below their names. The function can not be turned off by users.

‘Refuting rumors’ is a priority for Weibo management and has only become more relevant during the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak in China and the recent Shanghai outbreak.

On Saturday, the hashtag “What Does It Mean That Platforms Are Unrolling the IP Function?” (#平台开放IP属地功能意味着什么#) was trending on Weibo, attracting over 170 million views.

The new measure has attracted mixed reactions on Chinese social media, where some users think it is useful that you can now discern users located abroad from those who are based in China, making it easier to draw conclusions on what is really going on in society (you can now spot trends that are particularly taking place within one region) and what is merely taking place in cyberspace.

But there are many users who think the new function is just another layer of control and does not really help to combat fake news or malicious rumors, since the IP location could actually still be changed.

Although the entire idea of displaying the IP location is to minimize the gap between cyberspace and reality based on one’s location, the location is merely the geographic location of the internet from the connected device and does not always correspond with the actual location of the social media user.

Once a person is connected to a Virtual Private Network (VPN), for example, internet traffic is sent through a server in another location, and the IP address will be replaced by the IP address of the VPN server in a different location from people’s actual address.

Some Weibo account are also not run by the persons themselves but by a social media or marketing company.

In this way, Bill Gates unexpectedly turned out to be located in Henan province, and Lionel Messi’s location showed up as Shanghai.

Others think that the new rule will only lead to more online polarization and self-censorship: “Who made this unsettling decision?! From now on, Chinese nationals who are studying or living abroad will be extra extra careful in what they write, otherwise, they’ll be labeled as ‘foreign forces.'”

Some people joked about the new function revealing their location, writing: “It made me so embarrassed. I’m pretending to be studying in the UK, while I’m actually in the mountains feeding the pigs.” Others were also surprised that their IP location was completely different from the place where they are actually living: “Weibo, what are you doing? I’ve never even been to Jilin,” one commenter wrote.

According to an online poll held by Fengmian News, 56% of the participants (nearly 300,000 at time of writing) said they supported the new function. 21% did not like the function, 17% said they did not care, and 6% were just curious to see their own IP location and if it matches their actual location.

“I’m gonna go and delete my more extreme comments,” one person wrote: “I don’t wanna give my hometown a bad reputation.”

Global Times commentator Hu Xijin (胡锡进) also gave his views on the new measure, saying that people’s viewpoints and values will always be more important than where they come from, and that all friends of China matter, no matter where they are based. However, he argued, it is also good to know where those who openly express anti-Chinese sentiments come from, exposing those ‘evil foreign force’ who are trying to disrupt social cohesion within the country.

Noteworthy enough, Hu Xijin’s own IP location was not displayed on his Weibo account, as some celebrities seem to have been excluded from this measure or can decide themselves whether or not they would like to display their IP location or not.

One Weibo user wrote: “Twitter can follow its own regulations in banning Trump, while Weibo can transcend its own regulations and not show Hu Xijin’s IP location.”

For recent articles Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse

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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.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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China and Covid19

‘Voices of April’: The Day After

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them.”

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On April 23, a day after the video ‘Voices of April’ briefly took over social media before it was censored, the trending topic of the day is a hashtag related to new Covid cases reported in Shanghai.

Shanghai reported higher Covid-19 cases and deaths on Friday than the five days prior, which showed a daily decline in new cases. Shanghai reported a total of 23,370 new cases (including 20,634 asymptomatic ones), the municipal health commission said Saturday. A related hashtag by Xinhua News received over 910 million views on Weibo on Saturday (#上海新增本土确诊2736例无症状20634例#).

Although the hashtag was initiated by state media to inform about the Shanghai Covid situation, netizens started using it to criticize Shanghai’s handling of the crisis, with more commenters questioning China’s zero-Covid strategy. Similarly, other state media-initiated hashtag places also became online spaces where Weibo users vented their frustrations earlier this month.

Besides the ongoing online criticism and vocal disagreement with China’s Covid handling and policies, there are also many who express shock at the recent crackdown of any form of protest or criticism regarding the situation in Shanghai.

“‘Voices of April’ has been shutdown all over the internet, I’m simply dumbfounded,” one person said about the popular video that contained real recordings of events that happened during the city’s lockdown.

“If you still can find the video anywhere, forward it,” another person writes.

Besides Voices of April (四月之声), there have also been other videos over the past week that are meant to expose the mishandling of the Covid situation in Shanghai.

One of them is titled Farewell, Language (再见语言), another one is Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春).

Farewell, Language (再见语言) is a 42-second sound art video by artist Yang Xiao (杨潇), who used over 600 commonly used propaganda phrases from Chinese official channels and randomly broadcasted the audio in the community where he lives.

The anti-epidemic workers just continue their work and do not seem to notice anything out of the ordinary at all. The video shows how this kind of language has been so normalized that for most, it has just become background noise in their everyday life – without even noticing nor critically assessing its meaning or logic anymore.

The Shanghai Late Spring (上海晚春) video is a compilation of video footage from the Shanghai lockdown, showing people struggling to get food, violent altercations between anti-epidemic workers and residents, people living in deplorable conditions in quarantine centers, and more (link to video).

The video uses the song Cheer Up London by Slaves, its chorus being:

You’re dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead, dead, already-ready
Dead, already, dead
.”

One Weibo commenter responded to the video in English, using a text from Les Misérables: “Do you hear the people sing / Singing the song of angry men / It is the music of a people / Who will not be slaves again!” The phrase “do you hear the people sing” was also used by other social media users to address the situation in Shanghai and the censorship of related topics.

“The best way to make videos go viral is by censoring them,” one commenter replied.

Read our previous article about ‘Voices of April’ here.

For more articles on the Covid-19 topics on Chinese social media, check here.

By Manya Koetse, with contributions by Miranda Barnes

Get the story behind the hashtag. Subscribe to What’s on Weibo here to receive our weekly newsletter and get access to our latest articles:

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.

©2022 Whatsonweibo. All rights reserved. Do not reproduce our content without permission – you can contact us at info@whatsonweibo.com.

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