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Chinese Microblogging Platform's Censor Claims the Company is On Netizens' Side

BY Julia Wetherell | Tuesday, January 8 2013

A long post on the Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo from a user claiming to be a manager at the company raises questions over Sina’s stance on government regulations that require it to censor user-generated content.

Last week, a controversial letter from writers at the Guangzhou-based Southern Weekly newspaper called for the resignation of the Guangdong provincial propaganda chief, who had blatantly rewritten a New Year’s op-ed that called for constitutionalism and the expansion of civil rights in China. The journalists’ outcry prompted a frenzy of online activity, and a subsequent barrage of censorship across China’s many weibo platforms. Sina alone employs 1,000 people to delete content – and sometimes entire profiles – that contain sensitive keywords; in this case, even “south”, the first character of the paper’s name, was banned.

Amid the chaos, a user who claimed to be from Sina’s censorship department took to the weibo soapbox to address netizens. As Techinasia reported, his message didn’t rail against Sina, but attempted to convey the thin line the company has to walk, between a platform for populist expression and an organization subject to China’s censorship policy.

The people need Weibo to project our voices, but when the hand behind weibo wants to manipulate the discussion, something has to be sacrificed. We live in
a country full of special and sensitive barriers and we have to operate within a set of rules. [Techinasia’s translation]

Controversially, the post went on to imply that Sina censors intentionally leave to-be-censured posts up long enough for their messages to get across:

You are all experienced netizens, you know that the technology allows us to delete messages in a second. Please think carefully on this.

Whether the post came from a real Sina employee is up for speculation. The company was severely chastised by the government last spring for enabling the spread of “rumors”, and reportedly resolved to tighten regulations. As techPresident's David Eaves wrote in August, the democratizing effects that social media has engendered elsewhere in the world have yet to fully emerge in China. Like many Chinese web companies, Sina Weibo’s capitulation to governmental authorities may squander that potential.