China's microblogs enhance public's supervision of gov't

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua, August 14, 2011
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A decade ago, the most favored medium for Chinese people to air their complaints was perhaps through the state-owned China Central Television network.

However, the Internet has superseded television as the most popular means for the airing of discontent, with microblogs leading the charge.

Microblogs came to prominence in China just two years ago, but have exploded in popularity. Sina Weibo, one of the country's most popular microblog providers, has allowed the country's citizens to supervise - and criticize - China's government in ways that were never thought possible before.

In comparison to microblogs, traditional media entities face technical and systematic restrictions in their efforts to observe and supervise the government. The Internet and its vast number of microbloggers are now able to make up for this deficiency, according to Zhan Jiang, a professor of journalism at the Beijing Foreign Studies University.

Microblogs make it easy for people to speak their thoughts in real-time, essentially making their public voices louder, according to Professor Zhan.

Sina Weibo was launched in August 2009. Since then, it has attracted more than 140 million registered users, with the number expected to exceed 200 million by the end of this year, according to the company.

Microblogging services enjoyed "explosive growth" in the first six months of this year, with the number of registered microblog users surging by 208.9 percent to reach 195 million, according to the China Internet Network Information Center.

Wired watchdogs

A 2010 report quoted by the Beijing-based newspaper International Herald Leader said that more than one-fifth of the 50 most-discussed public events in 2010 were first reported on by microbloggers.

Traditional media outlets have blind spots in performing their role as "society's watchdog." However, microblogs have allowed ordinary citizens to fill in these gaps.

During the recent crises of confidence faced by the Red Cross Society of China (RCSC) and Beijing's Palace Museum, microbloggers were the first to report on the scandals. Traditional media outlets scrambled to cover the stories after they broke online.

The RCSC came under fire following a scandal revolving around a young woman calling herself "Guo Meimei." The woman claimed to be a general manager for "Red Cross Commerce," a group that the RCSC said does not exist.

The woman posted photos on her microblog detailing her lavish lifestyle, provoking the ire of netizens who speculated that she might have funded her extravagant purchases by embezzling money from the Red Cross Society.

The Palace Museum was thrown into the spotlight after microbloggers accused it of concealing an incident in which an antique was damaged by a testing instrument due to an operational error.

Xie Yungeng, an expert on media economics and management at Shanghai Jiaotong University, said many officials are unaware of the powerful influence of microblogs. "They lack an awareness of new media. They are too arrogant to care."


Perhaps the greatest example of the power of the country's microbloggers came after last month's fatal high-speed train crash in the eastern city of Wenzhou. Forty people were killed in the accident.

Netizens took to their keyboards to express outrage over the way China's railway authorities handled the accident, while others offered condolences to the victims.

Following the public outcry, government authorities promised an "open and transparent" investigation regarding the cause of the crash, as well as increased safety checks for high-speed railways and slower operating speeds for high-speed trains.

The general offices of the State Council, or China's Cabinet, and the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee issued a circular 10 days after the crash, stating that information on major emergencies and items of public concern, such as government efforts and the results of official investigations, should be released to the public in an "objective and timely manner."

The People's Daily, the CPC's flagship newspaper, urged officials to answer questions from Internet users in a timely and accurate fashion and to brush up on their online communication skills in a recent article titled "How to Speak in the Microblog Era."

The article encouraged officials to address public concerns through online platforms and not to shy away from answering thorny questions. "Online performance reflects an official's all-around capability," the article said.

However, a survey quoted by the Guangzhou Daily newspaper earlier this week showed that 80 percent of the country's microblog users have doubts regarding the authenticity of information posted on microblogging sites.

Of the survey's 2,960 respondents, one-third believe that there is too much "negative and worthless information" posted on microblogs, while over 11 percent argued that the authenticity of the information posted on microblogs is difficult for most people to verify.

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