[show_hide title=”Click here to read this post in Chinese | 点击这里阅读这篇文章在中国”]
//CGCS Media Wire presents a look at civic engagement, protest and government response in China through micro-blogging platform Weibo.
// Written by Luwei Rose Luqiu, Chinese journalist,columnist, writer and blogger. Translation by Media Wire correspondent Nicole Wang. Edited by Media Wire Fellow Corey Abramson.
On October 13th, at 2:25am netizen @Tinaanddavid posted a status update about an experience her husband had during a recent night out in Shanghai. The Sina Weibo post angrily described the actions of a drunk local attempting to pick up a five year old girl to be swept off into the sex trade. After a frantic call to the police, authorities arrived, released the girl and then proceeded to do nothing else.
Outrage flooded the micro-blogging platform, as users began to rapidly spread the story. Only after the post had been thoroughly recirculated by other Weibo users did authorities contact @Tinaanddavid, promising her that they would begin to investigate and inform her of any details once they had finished…
Several months ago, I came across a broken pedestrian light in Beijing. When I called the government hotline for addressing such matters, the operator was supportive, and took down the details. A week later, however, when traveling through Beijing again, I found that the light remained broken. Frustrated with the situation, I posted about it on my Weibo account, and next day, the official government Weibo account replied. After just one hour, the light was fixed.
There are hundreds of official government Weibo accounts – most of them belong to the Public Security Bureau – the police offices from different cities (including Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai). Similar to Twitter, Weibo users can mention (@username) these accounts to let the appropriate authorities know about reported cases. As to how fast the government accounts will respond, it seems to depend on how many people notice, circulate and respond to the original posts. If the Big V (users deemed exceptionally viral and influential) are the ones to share or even more so post the original complaint, reactions from government agencies seem to be expedited.
While I do agree that the police should use social media to improve their efficiency and transparency, I can tell the police also use the micro-blogging platform as a way to keep up with their PR as well.
Another netizen living in Shangai, @FoxEatBun(@吃包子的狐狸), was detained under interesting circumstances by local police for something he had posted on Weibo just a day before.
Much like @TinaandDaivd, fellow Weibo user @FoxEatBun had a grievance with something government related. After promoting T-shirts and umbrellas printed with the words “citizen”, “liberty”, “justice” and “love” on Weibo, Shanghai police raided his warehouse inventory.
Frustrated, @FoxEatBun took to Weibo and voiced his opinion on the situation, unhappy that his goods were being confiscated because of the content printed on them. Word spread, and fellow users began to rally around the case, and then unlike @TinaandDavid, @FoxEatBun did something unexpected.
He called for volunteers to petition in front of the police office, hoping to stir support for his side of the issue. About five hours after his rallying post, @FoxEatBun received a phone call from the police who asked him to come in and “have a talk”.
He would wind up spending the night at the station.
What is interesting about this case, is that this netizen specifically did not mention (directly link with the ‘@’ command) the Weibo account associated with authorities at any point. He did, however distribute his ‘questionable’ T-shirts and umbrellas through the Weibo platform.
Through this, police discovered and found his warehouse, leading to further action on the micro-blogger’s part. After his outburst to the Weibo community, authorities then discovered his plans to gather people and petition in front of the police office.
People may argue that this is simply the nature of Sina Weibo, which is known for being monitored and under inspection. But for Chinese micro-bloggers, the grass is not any greener on the Twitter side of the fence. If a Chinese netizen tweets something questionable to Twitter, he or she may be “invited” by the police or Guobao( national security official) for interrogation, which Chinese netizens have come to affectionately call “drinking tea.”
As a media professional, I have been warned several times about my own Twitter posts – this made me realize that while it may not be safe posting inside the wall, for Chinese netizenry, posting outside the wall is often just as treacherous.
//Rose Luqiu Luwei is a influencial Chinese journalist ,columnist, writer and blogger. She covered the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.She also covered all major domestic and international news events, from Tsunami in 2004, the Great Sichuan Earthquake in 2008 to the Arab Spring and the Japan Earthquake in 2011. She is Nieman Fellow and published six books in China. She founded a non-profit website w