Just yesterday I wrote a piece about what the internet in China might look like if it wasn’t censored, and today I got a note saying things have gotten just a bit more free. Free Weibo is a new site (launched yesterday) that uses Sina Weibo’s own data and data from Weiboscope (which collects blocked and deleted weibo posts) to allow users to search for search terms that are blocked on the Sina Weibo site. Want to search for “Hu Jintao” or look up your favorite evil cult? Now you can actually do it.
The site comes from the same folks behind Greatfire.org, and I spoke with a rep who asked to remain anonymous for fear of government reprisals. He told me the impetus for creating the site was pretty simple:
I generally want to make a contribution to combating censorship in China. I think the centralized control of information is scary. There are so many reasons and I’m sure I personally only know some of them. Very generally, the more freedom of speech, the better.
Perhaps needless to say, the site is blocked in China, but my contact said that it was just an IP block that should be remedied fairly soon. I can’t imagine it will last too long before it’s met with a domain block, though, especially given that the site’s interface (which is now only in English) will also be translated into Chinese.
I was also curious as to how the cooperation with WeiboScope (which is a project we looked at last year, run by the Journalism and Media Studies Centre at the University of Hong Kong) came about. I was told:
They [JMSC] agreed that I could use their data; that’s about it. They have limited resources and the search on their UI has been disabled which is a shame cause they have great data. I just wanted to make it more accessible.
Update 10/13: A former JMSC staffer emailed Tech in Asia to clarify that WeiboScope’s data is available to all without prior authorization and Free Weibo does not have any exclusive agreement or formal cooperation with JMSC.
Free Weibo is indeed very accessible, featuring a UI so simple that anyone could figure out in less than a second. It will be an extremely useful tool for journalists, but it should also be helpful for regular folks looking to make mundane searches that are blocked on Sina Weibo because of their association with “sensitive” topics. Regardless of your motives. Free Weibo should be a useful tool for taking a peek at the bits of Sina Weibo Sina and the government don’t want you to see.