A Chinese blogger has identified the eight key ways that Sina Weibo – China’s most popular microblogging service – can shut you up and shut you down. In accordance with local laws – and necessitated by the platform’s phenomenal success in China – it has an astonishingly elaborate number of ways in which to censor and block individuals.
Weibo has been instrumental in many major news stories in the past year, pushing forward the pace of breaking news in China, and even setting a national mood in a way that must surely make authorities nervous. But Weibo is no rogue and untamable element – unlike the blocked Twitter – and it has to play along with all relevant media laws, pretty much the same as a state-run or private newspaper. The leeway given is actually only slightly more.
The blogger behind the list – from an excellent article on his ten impressions of Weibo as a service, many of which are positive – explains that his motive isn’t negative:
This article is not to blame Sina. They just work in line with the government’s mandate. In fact, we all understand the sorrow of the Chinese Internet practitioners.
Here, then, is the list of the eight ways that Sina strives to maintain ‘social stability’ on Weibo:
Keyword monitoring and deleting posts:
This is a very common practice for removing posts on sensitive issues. There’s usually no repercussion to a user if this happens occasionally. The blogger notes that Netease’s microblog service is often more strict and censorious than Sina’s.
A vanishing post:
This is an odder, more refined, and more rarely used technique. Basically, a user will see the post in his/her timeline and presume that it has been published, but it actually wasn’t, and no-one could see it in reality.
Temporary audit of a user:
A repeat offender on Weibo might be put under an audit, so that each of their posts is manually screened by one of Sina’s self-censoring staffers (a phenomenon at pretty much every media company in the country).
Eventually, someone might get banned, though Sina refers to it more as your account being under review (so it’s similar to #3 on the list). The Chinese blogger claims that few such ‘we need to review’ posts actually get posted – though it’s not clear if that’s due to content, or perhaps a lack of manpower to check so many tweets.
A “little secretary” for verified users:
Verified users – those denoted by a “+V” icon – get the assistance of a “little secretary” in warning you if some of your content looks too ‘disharmonious’ (a common watch-word here) to post. Since all verified users have shown Sina their real identity, there’s a very real danger in posting borderline content for such people in China. Average users don’t get this ‘assistance’ before being banned.
Now you’ve been shut down. This needs no explanation.
Deleted account, and blocked from re-registering:
If your offense is so disharmonious then your email address will get blocked from being used to re-register…
Banned IP address:
…Well, just use a different email, you might be thinking. But Sina has thought of that, and its final line of defense against those who wish to rock the boat is IP blocking. Sina’s notice will tell you (pictured above): “The IP address or account you used before has been temporarily banned because it violated Sina Weibo’s security review policies.”
Remember, these are not unique to Sina – it’s all a part of operating in the web and media business in China. And with companies needing various licenses as approval to stay in business, you can see the circle of circumspection and self-censorship that it creates. And that’s how authorities would love to keep it.