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

China's Official Press Agency Can't Win On Twitter Because Censorship

BY Jessica McKenzie | Tuesday, January 14 2014

Who doesn't want updates on Yutu's sleeping status?!

It's not terribly surprising that Xinhua News Agency, China's official mouthpiece/press agency, doesn't “get” Twitter. Since the platform is blocked in their country, Xinhua employees can't be expected to become Twitter pros overnight. But it's been almost a year now since @XHNews opened an account; 8,242 (and counting) tweets later and they still only have 23,325 followers.

In a post on Tea Leaf Nation, Liz Carter describes their fumbled tweets as “growing pains.” She points out misspellings (“disciliponed”) and inappropriate celebrity mentions (“Tiger Woods is not an actual tiger.”).

This is pretty outrageous when one considers (as Carter points out) that China has spent billions of dollars trying to ramp up their public image abroad.

Also worth noting, since Carter posted about @XHNews on January 10, the Twitter bio of the Agency has changed. Instead of “A multimedia group, Xinhua delivers the most authoritative China news as well as updated and objective news,” it now reads, “A multimedia group, Xinhua delivers the latest China news as well as objective global news.”

Perhaps they decided that describing themselves as “authoritative” was just a little too obvious.

In an article for The Diplomat, Arthur Guschin explains why China's public relations problems run deeper than a lack of Twitter politesse and finesse:

Herein lies the problem with Chinese public diplomacy: the incompatibility of the core audience in Western countries and the information product of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China. This core audience consists of educated, urban people 16-35 years old who will play roles in government or business organizations. Beijing offers them programs about Chinese culture and language with ideologically driven news. However, this audience gets most of its information from the internet and social media. China, however, has strict controls over the web and blocks access to Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other outlets.

Moreover, the history and culture of ancient China or Confucius are unlikely to excite the interests of young people, who are more interested in what is happening in China today. Beijing is focusing solely on its culture or civilization, while overlooking current issues such as policymaking or pollution. This is an example of why it is so difficult to build a national brand using state institutions alone. Examples such as “Cool Britannia,” South Korea’s “Sparkling Korea” or Kosovo’s “Kosovo, the Young Europeans” demonstrate that high-budget advertising sponsored by a government but not connected to real people is not effective at expanding soft power. China has the financial resources to get its message out, but lacks freedom of speech, which could damage the existing vertical power structure. China’s strategy is compromised by the absence of partnerships between the government and society, businesses and individuals that could Chinese ideas in a way that is not propaganda.

So learning how and when to #hashtag or @mention someone might not solve all of @XHNews's problems after all. Because censorship.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

For a round-up of our weekly stories, subscribe to the WeGov mailing list.

News Briefs

RSS Feed today >

Brazilian President Signs Internet Bill of Rights Into Law at NetMundial

Earlier today Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff sanctioned Marco Civil, also called the Internet bill of rights, during the global Internet governance event, NetMundial, in Brazil.

GO

tuesday >

Ruck.us Reboots As a Candidate Digital Toolkit That's a Bit Too Like Democracy.com

Ruck.us launched with big ambitions and star appeal, hoping to crack the code on how to get millions of people to pool their political passions through their platform. When that ambition stalled, its founder Nathan Daschle--son of the former Senator--decided to pivot to offering political candidates an easy-to-use free web platform for organizing and fundraising. Now the new Ruck.us is out from stealth mode, entering a field already being served by competitors like NationBuilder, Salsa Labs and Democracy.com. And strangely enough, Ruck.us seems to want its early users to ask Democracy.com for help. GO

Armenian Legislators: You Can Be As Anonymous on the 'Net As You Like—Until You Can't

A proposed bill in Armenia would make it illegal for media outlets to include defamatory remarks by anonymous or fake sources, and require sites to remove libelous comments within 12 hours unless they identify the author.

GO

monday >

The Good Wife Looks for the Next Snowden and Outwits the NSA

Even as the real Edward Snowden faces questions over his motives in Russia, another side of his legacy played out for the over nine million viewers of last night's The Good Wife, which concluded its season long storyline exploring NSA surveillance. In the episode titled All Tapped Out, one young NSA worker's legal concerns lead him to becoming a whistle-blower, setting off a chain of events that allows the main character, lawyer Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), and her husband, Illinois Governor Peter Florrick (Chris Noth), to turn the tables on the NSA using its own methods. GO

The Expanding Reach of China's Crowdsourced Environmental Monitoring Site, Danger Maps

Last week billionaire businessman Jack Ma, founder of the e-commerce company Alibaba, appealed to his “500 million-strong army” of consumers to help monitor water quality in China. Inexpensive testing kits sold through his company can be used to measure pH, phosphates, ammonia, and heavy metal levels, and then the data can be uploaded via smartphone to the environmental monitoring site Danger Maps. Although the initiative will push the Chinese authorities' tolerance for civic engagement and activism, Ethan Zuckerman has high hopes for “monitorial citizenship” in China.

GO

The 13 Worst Bits of Russia's Current and Maybe Future Internet Legislation

It appears that Russia is on the brink of passing still more repressive Internet regulations. A new telecommunications bill that would require popular blogs—those with 3,000 or more visits a day—to join a government registry and conform to government-mandated standards is expected to pass this week. What follows is a list of the worst bits of both proposed and existing Russian Internet law. Let us know in the comments or on Twitter if we missed anything.

GO

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

More