Weibo: The Chinese Twitter Story

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Restrictions on international websites in China has banned the use of social networking sites such as Facebook and twitter. As a result, China has adapted and come up with its own social networks. Renren is thought to be the ” Chinese Facebook” while Weibo is China’s version of twitter. Although the basic platforms appear the same, Weibo, unlike Twitter is strongly censored.

Launched in 2010, Weibo now has 300 million users sending, as the article explains, 100 million messages everyday at a rate of 70,000 per minute. This makes censorship seem extremely difficult to accomplish. Any politically sensitive information is deleted informing the person who posted it that permission has been denied. What is immensely fascinating is how Weibo is able to accomplish such a feat. The article hypothesizes on this issue. They find that thirty percent of deletions due to censorship as soon as it is posted. With approximately five percent of these deletions occurring within the first eight minutes since the post was posted. All in all, approximately ninety percent of deletions occur within a day. It is rare for them to take longer.

Thus Wallace and co deduce that Weibo has about four thousand, two hundred and fifty sensors working each day. Techniques such as keyword alert are expected to be used to detect anything that needs to be censored. This involves keywords being detected from posts and alerting the system. Due to the nature of the Chinese language, it is incredibly difficult to filter. This is further complicated by the popular use of shortened language in Weibo. Perhaps, since Weibo also uses hash tags, those in charge of censoring pay special attention to hash tags. Since they are usually used to summarize the theme of the post.

The article also suggests that censorship authorities focus on users who have a history of deletions, assuming they are most likely to post prohibited information online in the future. They found that such users had their prohibited posts deleted faster across time. Certain key politically sensitive phrases are said to trigger a mass deletion of posts containing or discussing that information. In fact certain sensitive phrases are blocked as soon as they are typed. It is interesting that Weibo does not do all of its censorship in this manner. Instead, allowing posts with sensitive information to be put up online and then having them deleted afterwards.

Censorship is a large part of the Chinese social networks. All content is highly regulated and subject to censoring by authorities. In addition, people must disclose their real identity when making an account on social networks. If not directly, indirectly, through the internet service providers. In the United States, that does not prove to be an issue. The disparities in information provided and shared by both countries’ social networks is quite interesting. It is my intention to do a comparative study between the Chinese social networking sites and those that are international. It is also my intent to identify the reaction of many of the Chinese users and their thoughts on the social networks, particularly the heavy censorship of the content.

http://www.technologyreview.com/view/512231/computer-scientists-measure-the-speed-of-censorship-on-chinas-twitter/