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Is Weibo really for the people?


HONG KONG (Agencies): While the popular Chinese microblog, Weibo, has been used by people to express religious beliefs and to voice criticisms, even of some local governments, the fact that it is allowed to exist means that the government is using it, probably to monitor the behaviour of local government officials, Forum 18 News Service reported on November 26.

Nevertheless, it notes that freedom of religion or belief has also been a popular topic, mostly among Buddhists, as seen in discussions about connections between the constitution and religious freedom.

A scholar at Peking University wrote, “Without religious freedom, there can’t be a real constitution!”

However, like all other topics discussed on Weibo, freedom of religion has been limited in its scope and frequency. Criticism of the state, especially of central political leaders, is mostly indirect, and the site has not been used to mobilise collective action to address specific religious freedom violations.

Nevertheless, Forum 18 News Service says that it allows views to be aired that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.

Two professors from the University of Pennsylvania and New York University, Guobin Yang and Craig Calhoun, say that Weibo has displayed even faster speed, greater reach and more interactivity than other Internet vehicles.

They cite the example of July 2011 when two high-speed trains collided outside Wenzhou. News of the collision, which led to 40 deaths and injuries to 191 people, was immediately posted on Weibo and tens of millions of people posted and re-posted information about the collision while engaging in discussions, which had a lot to do with exposing unsafe practices in the management of the railway.

“But despite Weibo’s achievements, no one should deny the presence of the state,” a China-based American, who uses the alias Martin Johnson, says.

“The reason why Weibo exists is because the (Communist Party of China) allows it to,” he notes.

He quotes an October 31 report from Reuters as saying that industrial executives in China have indicated that the government can use Weibo to obtain “real-time feedback on policies and a method to take stock of the public mood.”

It also quoted Michael Anti, a Chinese blogger and journalist, as noting that the Chinese central authorities can use Weibo to take action against local officials and rival factions.

Anti said, “If Weibo is a battlefield... the government seeks to occupy it, not destroy it.”


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