The Year in Sina Weibo Topics: Will Weibo Stay Political?

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Sina weibo yearly retrospective

As the year draws to a close, people are beginning the retrospectives and looks back that will soon cover the entire internet like a big, boring blanket. Sina (NASDAQ:SINA) is one of the first players to enter this game, with a big retrospective feature on what happened on Weibo over the past year. If you’re a Weibo nerd and you can read Chinese, the whole thing is worth checking out, but for now we’ll stick to the most important part, which is the list Sina made of the ten biggest topics on Weibo this year.

The list is as follows. It’s not numbered on Sina’s feature, so we’re not sure whether there’s a significance to the order or not, but we’re presenting it in the same order Sina did just in case.

Having been watching Weibo fairly carefully over the past year, I think it’s a pretty fair list, and I’m especially glad to see they didn’t try to shy away from how big the July train crash got on Weibo.

The reason I thought they might do that was that there are increasing whispers about Sina cracking down on political discussion on Weibo. For example, the Financial Times wrote (h/t to Digicha):

Many heavy users of Sina ($SINA) Weibo, the country’s leading Twitter substitute, told the Financial Times that they felt that the microblog had become less vibrant as new controls were introduced over the last few months.

“Sina is cracking down hard,” says Xie Wen, a prominent internet entrepreneur and prolific microblogger. He notes that posts which would have attracted large numbers of re-tweets and comments before the new restrictions are now barely making any impact, a complaint echoed by many other prominent microbloggers.

There’s no real data to prove or disprove this, but anecdotally, I have found it to be true as well, as several Weibo posts I’ve made in recent weeks have been deleted very quickly.

From a business perspective, a crackdown on political discussion on Sina Weibo could result in decreased user interest that hurts the site. Then again, government officials have made repeated statements over the fall about how microblogging needs to be properly managed; not cracking down could be just as dangerous since every Chinese internet company succeeds only to the extent the government allows it to.

Moreover, a politically “castrated” weibo might still work for Sina. Bill Bishop of the invaluable Digicha writes:

As for the risks of castration, emasculation has sometimes been a path to riches in China. More than a few eunuchs have amassed great power and huge fortunes. A neutered Weibo could still be a successful business.

Will anything as controversial as the high-speed rail accident appear on next year’s top ten list? My gut feeling says no. That might not mean Sina’s facing any sort of financial losses, but it would be a significant loss for China and its people, so I really hope I’m wrong.

(And yes, we're serious about ethics and transparency. More information here.)

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