Weibo and Tencent suspensions show government still in control of social media in China

Censorship has now caught up with new social media and technology in China. Flickr/bfishadow

This week’s temporary suspension of comments on China’s two largest micro-blogging services Sina Weibo and Tencent Weibo highlight the ruling party’s discomfort with social media’s growing popularity.

Following the circulation of rumours regarding Bo Xilai’s downfall, government censorship has been swift and decisive with reports of up to six arrested and 16 websites closed

Despite reform and the Open Door policy adopted in China since 1978, a comprehensive mechanism of control and censorship on media, including the internet, continues.

There is no sign that anything close to a regime change is happening in China, but social media is beginning to play an interesting political role, sometimes influencing localised policy changes.

But these changes can only be accomplished with the government’s backing, and its tolerance of the informal cooperation between ordinary citizens and established leaders. In this small way, social media is helping authorities to become more aware of problems in the community and giving some citizens more opportunity to start public debate.

Making connections

In the first half of last year, adoption of the Chinese microblogging site “Weibo” – a site similar to Twitter – jumped over 200% to reach 195 million or 40% of internet users in China. Since it took off last year, Weibo has featured in a series of high-profile events.

In July last year, a high-speed train crash in Whenzhou prompted many users of the site to vent anger about the crash and how it was handled.

Weibo also became a place for public outcry after the live broadcast of local officials harassing residents who appealed against the demolition of their houses. And on another occasion in reaction to a hit-and-run incident, where the driver boasted of his father’s position as a security official.

Weibo is changing China. Flickr/Weibo.com/bfishadow