China’s Sina Weibo to tighten controls

Chinese online media firm Sina is tightening controls over its Twitter like Weibo service. The increased regulation comes amidst concerns over growing government interference on the web.

According to the state run China News Service, Sina’s CEO Charles Chao announced that the measures were put in place in a bid to curb the spread of malicious rumours on the Weibo service.

“There are lots of false information and rumours on Weibo, and this will cause great challenges to the government as well as vendors on our platform,” Chao was reported as saying.

In a bid to justify more robust action to curb the spread of rumours, Chao stated that rumours on the platform had caused “distortions and misrepresentations”.

“Sometimes rumours spread on Weibo too fast, so Sina Weibo is currently exploring various means to build more rumour-curbing mechanisms,” Chao said.

The company has reportedly set up “Weibo-rumour curbing teams” consisting of around ten members to monitor the platform, with a focus on “false information”.

Sina’s action follows recent calls by government ministers for it to curb the spread of rumours over the Weibo platform.

During a visit to Sina and video-sharing platform Youku, Beijing’s Communist Party chief Liu Qi said internet companies should “ensure the authenticity of information… to create a healthy online media atmosphere”.

China has constantly sought to exert control over the content its 485-million internet users can access, blocking content it deems politically sensitive.

This vast censorship system has become known in the West as “The Great Firewall“.

The site’s initial response had been to suspend the accounts of users found guilty of posting false information. Users would also be unable to send messages or be followed for the duration of the suspension period.

Chinese social network users are increasingly turning to platforms like Sina’s Weibo to vent their anger over government corruption, scandals and disasters. The platform allows for the rapid spread of information in a country where the media is tightly controlled by the communist authorities.

In July, Sina’s Weibo users sent millions of messages criticising the government’s response to a deadly train crash which killed more than 40 people. The venting of public anger has been cited as a critical factor in the authorities halting the expansion of the country’s high-speed rail programme.

The scale of the response saw various media outlets venturing to join in the criticism of the government. Even Communist Party mouthpiece, the People’s Daily urged the government to engage more with the public through the weibos.

Sina Weibo has attracted more than 200-million users in the two years it has been in existence, around the same as its main Western rival Twitter. The platform is different to many of China’s social networks which are frequently little more than facsimile copies of Western sites and has often been ahead of Twitter in adding features like automatic link shortening.



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