Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

When Victorious Obama Spoke to “Distant Nations,” China’s Web Users Were Listening

BY David Wertime | Friday, November 9 2012

David Wertime is co-founder and co-editor of Tea Leaf Nation, where this post originally appeared. It is republished with permission.

In his acceptance speech in the early morning of November 7, re-elected U.S. President Barack Obama seemed to be talking to the world when he said: “We can never forget that as we speak, people in distant nations are risking their lives right now just for a chance to argue about the issues that matter, the chance to cast their ballots like we did today.”

If the President was attempting to project his words to “distant nations,” he succeeded. People in China, at least, were listening. @风青杨V, a commentator and CEO of an Internet company from the Chinese city of Wuhan, posted an image linking to the quote in English and Chinese on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter:

According to Weiboscope, a tool by Hong Kong University that tracks popular images among influential Weibo users, this post was retweeted over 12,000 times and attracted over 3,000 comments before being deleted by censors.

That has not stopped chatter about Obama’s stirring words. On November 8, Internet portal Sina uploaded video of the President’s speech, complete with Chinese subtitles. The video has already been retweeted over 46,000 times since. Prominent commenter and venture capitalist Kai-Fu Lee (@李开复), perhaps mindful of censors, helped popularize the video when he retweeted it, but simply appended, “Good material for English-language study.”

But it was surely more than that. Commenting on the video, a number of users simply echoed President Obama’s words about those in “distant nations…risking their lives…for a chance to argue.” Many others reacted positively as well. One commenter echoed Kai-Fu Lee’s cryptic endorsement, writing, “I don’t know why, but I really like Obama. Hehe, this really is good material for English-language study.”

Obama’s message may have prompted other kinds of study as well. One user opined, “The 18th National Party Congress [where China's new leadership is to be selected] should study this. From the bottom of my heart, I don’t want to hear their insufferable bureaucratic speak. I don’t want to hear about ‘XX thought’ or ‘XX theory.’ It will take a more relaxed atmosphere for us to feel democratic and free." Another wrote, “It was as if Obama knew what Brother Hu [referring to Chinese President Hu Jintao] was going to say [at the 18th Congress] and responded: Elections are important, the most important.”

But public opinion, as Obama surely knows, is cacophonous and messy. It’s small wonder that while some found Obama “charming” and “a genius at giving speeches,” others took a stance that may be familiar to some Americans. One user wrote, “If he hadn’t done what he did to the American economy in his first term, just listening to his speech, you would think he’d be a great president.” Given the degree to which President Obama’s speech seems to have penetrated China’s blogosphere, even criticism like this may sound rather sweet.

Transparency and Public Shaming: Pakistan Tackles Tax Evasion

In Pakistan, where only one in 200 citizens files their income tax return, authorities published a directory of taxpayers' details for the first time. Officials explained the decision as an attempt to shame defaulters into paying up.

GO

wednesday >

Facebook Seeks Approval as Financial Service in Ireland. Is the Developing World Next?

On April 13 the Financial Times reported that Facebook is only weeks away from being approved as a financial service in Ireland. Is this foray into e-money motivated by Facebook's desire to conquer the developing world before other corporate Internet giants do? Maybe.

GO

The Rise and Fall of Iran's “Blogestan”

The robust community of Iranian bloggers—sometimes nicknamed “Blogestan”—has shrunk since its heyday between 2002 – 2010. “Whither Blogestan,” a recent report from the University of Pennsylvania's Iran Media Program sought to find out how and why. The researchers performed a web crawling analysis of Blogestan, survey 165 Persian blog users, and conducted 20 interviews with influential bloggers in the Persian community. They found multiple causes of the decline in blogging, including increased social media use and interference from authorities.

GO

tuesday >

Weekly Readings: What the Govt Wants to Know

A roundup of interesting reads and stories from around the web. GO

Russia to Treat Bloggers Like Mass Media Because "the F*cking Journalists Won't Stop Writing"

The worldwide debate over who is and who isn't a journalist has raged since digital media made it much easier for citizen journalists and other “amateurs” to compete with the big guys. In the United States, journalists are entitled to certain protections under the law, such as the right to confidential sources. As such, many argue that blogging should qualify as journalism because independent writers deserve the same legal protections as corporate employees. In Russia, however, earning a place equal to mass media means additional regulations and obligations, which some say will lead to the repression of free speech.

GO

Politics for People: Demanding Transparent and Ethical Lobbying in the EU

Today the Alliance for Lobbying Transparency and Ethics Regulation (ALTER-EU) launched a campaign called Politics for People that asks candidates for the European Parliament to pledge to stand up to secretive industry lobbyists and to advocate for transparency. The Politics for People website connects voters with information about their MEP candidates and encourages them to reach out on Facebook, Twitter or by email to ask them to sign the pledge.

GO

monday >

Security Agencies Given Full Access to Telecom Data Even Though "All Lebanese Can Not Be Suspects"

In late March, Lebanese government ministers granted security agencies unrestricted access to telecommunications data in spite of some ministers objections that it violates privacy rights. Global Voices reports that the policy violates Lebanon's existing surveillance and privacy law, Law 140, but has gotten little coverage from the country's mainstream media.

GO

More