The Chinese social media dragon has risen. According to the Peoples Online Public Monitoring Office, Weibo, the country’s answer to Twitter, has more than 500 million users. And judging by their impact, they mean business.
Weibo has increasingly been used to prod the Communist Party into action on a range of issues, most notably, government corruption. Hu Yong, a professor at Peking University’s School of Journalism and Communication, said “before the emergence of Weibo, local people actually had limited channels to try to solve their problems. Weibo is a kind of pressure politics on local government officials.”
A Weibo user who attracts at least 30 followers has to verify their real-name account to continue using the site. Verified users are required to upload their identification cards and employment certificate sealed by their employer. Overseas users without a mobile number in China can send their applications to a designated email address. Once an account is verified, a verification badge, “V”, is added beside the account name.
There are around 630,000 verified individual accounts and 500,000 institutional accounts.
Weibo has helped spread China’s vibrant vigilante journalism.
Yang Dacai, the provincial official who caught the eye of Weibo users after being photographed smiling at the site of a bus accident that killed 36 people, angered Weibo users so much they began looking into his past. Users posted several photographs of Yang sporting eight different luxury watches. Last week he was sentenced to 14 years in prison for corruption.
Despite the apparent openness, the Communist Party is still very much in control of the online chatter. Keywords are closely monitored and problematic posts are routinely deleted.