China’s Own Facebook?

3 May

It has been approximately 4 years since Facebook was officially banned in China in 2009. Interestingly enough, Instagram, despite being own by Facebook, access is permitted in China. Whether it may be a stepping stone for China to grant Facebook access is not to say entirely impossibly.  The Facebook ban was a result of  what is know as ‘The Great Firewall’, implemented by the Chinese government to micro-manage the flow of information among social media sites. 700 people are employed to monitor postings (/”tweets”) should anything go array. Alternatively, perhaps China will come up with its own social networking site. Technology in China has considerably developed beyond mere copying, making very real innovative creations a thing of the present and near future. For China, to create its own ‘Apple’ or ‘Microsoft’ may still be a stretch but mini applications are not too far off. The closest China has to Facebook is Renren, which operated under the scrutiny of the government. According to data compiled by Bloomberg Industries last December, Renren was found to have ranked third in terms of the highest number of unique visitors, behind Sina’s Weibo and Tencent’s pengyou.com. WeChat, an instant-message app and Weibo, a Twitter-like microblog have approximately 300million and 500 million users respectively. Early Internet companies such as Alibaba may have used western companies such as EBay as models but it is no imitation of the foreign set up. Arguably, local applications and creations have a home ground advantage in the sense that they know what Chinese culture and society is like.

An increasing number of American TV celebrities have tapped into the China market. Ironically, their fame and recognition is known amongst the Chinese audience via pirated online websites. Without Facebook or Twitter to connect with their Chinese audience, it is no surprise that TV stars like Nina Dobrev and Wentworth Miller have taken to using Weibo as a form of social media campaign, as have branding companies. Taking note of a recent report by Motion Picture Association of America, according to which China has surpassed Japan as the second-largest box office market in the world, it could likely be in celebrities’ best interests to gain a popularity in the nation which would hopefully result in higher chances of being cast in films.

Dubbed as a new outreach, not only did Robert Downey Jr. visit China for the first time to promote the third IronMan film, the leading actor even set up a Weibo account, despite not having a twitter account which is essentially Weibo’s Western counterpart. Alibaba, the biggest e-commerce group in China, having bought an 18% stake in Weibo, indicates that the future for the fast-growing social media sector in China is rather bright.  Hence, despite it seeming like China is cut off from the world without facebook, perhaps the country does not need it and the public can be satisfied with their own version of the Western networking site. This can be further construed based on the attention received from other nations outside of China.

Sources: 

Alibaba buys stake in China’s Twitter-type Weibo service. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-22348308

China’s Parallel Online Universe. http://thediplomat.com/2011/12/27/china%E2%80%99s-parallel-online-universe/?all=true

How Piracy and Weibo help Western TV stars break out in China. http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/05/03/us-piracy-weibo-idUSBRE94204U20130503

Next Facebook May Be Chinese as Sites Innovative, Not Copy. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-03-29/next-facebook-may-be-chinese-as-sites-innovate-not-copy-1-.html

Renren Slumps to Loss as China Slowdown Damps Online Ads. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-03-11/renren-slumps-to-loss-as-china-slowdown-damps-online-ads.html

Why “IronMan” Robert Downey Jr. is on Sina Weibo but not Twitter: http://qz.com/81249/why-iron-man-robert-downey-jr-is-on-sina-weibo-but-not-twitter/

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4 Responses to “China’s Own Facebook?”

  1. btdb1g10 May 4, 2013 at 8:58 am #

    Just from this banning of Facebook incident, it is not hard to see the other underlying issues that are present in this modern China. One cannot help but wonder how in this 21st century of modern democracy, besides the infamous totalitarian North Korean government can there can be any authoritative government. However, compared to China’s communist ally that still practices widespread torture, gender discrimination and intimidation to control the populace, perhaps just a little freedom being curtailed might not seen to be anything major at all.

    Nonetheless, by the standards of the rest of the world, restricting a person’s right to even go on to a webpage is considered to be a serious infringement. It is pitiful when citizens do not even have the basic rights of expression, or simply to read whatever he so chooses. China’s authoritarian government maintains strict controls over free speech, religion and political activity — restrictions that the U.S. and most of the world consider human rights violations.

    The U.S.’s annual global human rights report by the State Department said China had imposed new registration requirements to prevent groups from emerging that might challenge government authority. It said,

    “Chinese government efforts to silence and intimidate political activists and public interest lawyers continued to increase, and that authorities use extralegal measures such as enforced disappearance to prevent the public voicing of independent opinions.”

    It also said there was discrimination against women, minorities and people with disabilities, and people trafficking, the use of forced labor, forced sterilization and widespread corruption.

    The government censors the internet; maintains highly repressive policies in ethnic minority areas such as Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia; systematically condones—with rare exceptions—abuses of power in the name of “social stability.” They rejects international and even domestic scrutiny of its human rights record. They view them as attempts to destabilize and impose “Western values” on the communist state.

    Against a backdrop of rapid socio-economic change and modernization, China continues to be an authoritarian one-party communist state that imposes strict restraints on freedom of expression, association, and religion; openly rejects judicial independence and press freedom; and arbitrarily restricts and suppresses human rights defenders and organisations.

    At the same time, it is observed that the Chinese citizens are increasingly rights-conscious and daring enough to challenge the authorities over livelihood issues, land seizures, forced evictions, abuses of power by corrupt cadres, discrimination, and economic inequalities. As such curtailments and infringement of rights and freedom build up, the people will potentially cause a revolution.

    —————————————————————————————————————–

    ‘World Report 2012: China – Human Rights Watch
    ‘http://www.hrw.org/world-report-2012/world-report-2012-china’

    http://www.worldtribune.com/2013/03/15/pyongyangs-communist-prince-plays-with-fire-while-his-people-endure-a-totalitarian-hell/

    http://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/china-criticizes-us-human-rights-record-19008898#.UYTJbr_U5SU

  2. iyh1g10 May 4, 2013 at 10:34 am #

    It is also interesting to consider whether the presence of microblogs is a sign of weakening censorship laws. Chinese authorities have been known to be very careful in controling Weibo. However, “Since Weibo, information in Chinese society has changed, it’s become more transparent, more direct,” says Wen Huajian author of China’s first microblog novel, Love in the Age of Weibo, which was published via 500 posts on the micro-blogging site. Student-led protest against the construction of a copper factory in Shifang in Sichuan province was widely circulated but not completely all were deleted, showing a potentially leniency in allowing some room for debate.

    While social networking sites are useful in the sense that they can serve as a platform for debate and help people communicate, here lies the danger that fabricated “evidence” can also be circulated. The ripple effect it can have is almost alarming, as seen in 2011 when
    China’s government could not regulate the media when a crash on one of China’s new high speed rail lines killed over 40 people and the news was broken by an eyewitness on Weibo, resulting in public outcry. The unfortunate accident labelled as a “public relations disaster”. The Prime Minister Wen Jiabo made a public apology and senior railway ministry officials resigned.

    Possibly one of the most significant scandals of late saw the downfall of Bo Xilai, a high-profile politician, following the news that his wife, Gu Kailai, was a prime suspect in the murder of Neil Heyword, a British businessman. The authorities may have sought to prevent Chinese citizens from reading politically sensitive content via foreign sites like Facebook, Twitter or Youtube but the citizens have turned to Weibo which now plays a crucial role in China. Through the gaps of censorship laws, code names were developed by web users to escape the eyes of government scrutiny. For a time, “tomato” was a code used to discuss Bo Xilai, rooted in a play on translations, seeing that tomato in Chinese is Xi Hong Shi, “Xi” means west, “Hong” means red and “Shi” sounds like city. As Mr Bo was known for promoting old-fashioned “red” Maoist priniciples in the western city of Chongqing, calling him “west red city” – Xi Hong Shi – or tomato.

    In most recent news, Zhu Ruifeng has recently exposed a “Chongqing blackmail scheme” which concerns a number of sex tapes previously seized by the party’s local disciplinary committee sometime ago.

    The Chinese are developing a growing interest in politics and social media such as Weibo may just be able to pierce the superficial appearance of authoritarian harmony. In determining whether or not Zhu’s actions are “justifiable”, there is perhaps a need for a privacy and public interest laws to be implemented in China.

    Sources:

    Chinese Blogger Thrives as Muckraker. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/06/world/asia/chinese-blogger-thrives-in-role-of-muckraker.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

    China’s censors tested by microbloggers who keep one step ahead of state media. http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/apr/16/internet-china-censorship-weibo-microblogs

    Cina prosecutes ‘sex-tape’ official Lei Zhengfu. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-22399297

    China Struggles to censor train crash coverage. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-14321787

    Weibo brings change to China. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18887804

  3. cjf3g11 May 8, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    After finding out about the ‘great fire wall’ in china I had more questions as to how it has been implemented and what about the human rights of the Chinese people?
    Internet censorship by the Chinese regime features the following four Chinese characteristics:
    1) The combination of universal filtering and manual spot-check.
    2) Blurring the rules and launching underground manipulation among departments. The criterion for “harmful information,” “sensitive information” and “subversion behavior” is not defined within the 50 plus law-cases.
    3) Inefficient administration and dismayed legal system causes difficulty in seeking litigation when the authorities illegally run down or delete information from the websites in China. It is difficult to search for definitive terms such as who executes the punishment? What’s the law entry that is violated? By which law is the principal punishment being executed? These problems are distinctively manifested in those websites of academy, law and rights safeguarding.
    4) Scouting and banning protest activities and the political movements supported by oversea forces. For the sake of “its own security,” authorities do not consider influences acting upon the international society. Generally, Internet censorship deals with the Web fraud and the pornographic harm to children in the international society. For the Middle East, only the category of religion will be monitored. Even for Cuba and North Korea, Internet surveillance is trivial compared to that of China, in which a complete, multi-layer, multi-channel and distributing filter system is built into the country.
    ‘What I feel most sad and dispirited about is that China’s Internet is being rapidly transformed into an internal network. That the global Internet and overseas sites are being blocked goes without saying. But their strategy of nationalizing the Internet is already going ahead with full force. They use the charge of low-brow or indecent content to blacken the name of commercial Internet sites. They use the spectre of Internet addiction to demonize the Web itself. They squeeze out small and medium-sized sites by restricting domain registration and filing requirements. Finally, they use the financial might of state assets to promote national Internet TV and Xinhua News Agency video content. And what’s more, they won’t stop there. In the future they will use state-owned search engines, state-owned real-time communications and online games, etc. Any Internet product that is of a media nature will be gradually nationalized and monopolized’
    There is of course a way round this tight censorship. People have turned to other forms of communication in order to express themselves, such as; texting, blogging, and using instant messaging.
    But despite all of this surely the Chinese people have the right to access Facebook if they wanted to? Interestingly The Asia paper: ‘will china google for freedom?’ survey highlighted a different perspective and argued that using a computer or accessing the internet is only one part of the equation. The most obvious assumption is that people who use computers in China are from those groups in society who are most likely to see stability as beneficial. They are generally young, educated and well off, living in urban China, and are those most likely to have an interest in stability as they are beneficiaries of the existing system.
    Human rights values such as freedom of speech are not completely ignored by Chinese, but they exist in a very different context compared to developed countries in the West.
    The survey data suggests that many more internet users are likely to agree with the argument that the need to ensure stability overrides any concern with freedom of speech. The expectation that 400 million Chinese internet users want to tear down the information curtain is likely to be disappointed, but the Chinese government could afford to allow greater freedom on the internet and trust its online population not to rush into undermining stability.

    Sources:
    http://www.vub.ac.be/biccs/site/assets/files/apapers/Asia%20papers/20100215%20-%20Freeman%20internet.pdf
    http://www.theepochtimes.com/news/6-11-10/47995.html
    http://cmp.hku.hk/2010/01/28/4355/
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/click_online/4587622.stm

  4. ab25g11 May 15, 2013 at 10:32 pm #

    The micro-blogging site is set to become an even more prevalent for China’s internet users. The acquisition of an 18% stake in Sino Weibo by Alibaba, China’s biggest e-commerce firm that handled more transactions last year than Amazon and eBay combined establishes a promising future for the social network site.

    Shopping in China is a social phenomenon with both men and women shopping in groups and heavily scrutinising products online through numerous consumer reviews. Therefore Alibaba’s $586m acquisition in Weibo is set to speed up Alibaba’s expanding e-commerce, especially onto mobile phones where other sites currently dominate. This move also counteracts another large Chinese internet firm who are making a play for the e-commerce market. Tencent is most noted for its innovative Weixin (WeChat) a mixture of social-media services which is rapidly spreading across China. Tencent is the only internet company which poses any threat to Alibaba; therefore Weibo could be the social network site which maintains an advantage for their country-wide market dominance and expansive profit.
    http://www.economist.com/blogs/schumpeter/2013/04/china-s-internet-titans

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