A view of how social media works in China

One of the interesting conversations I've been having lately is regarding China.  Back in 1992, I joined Microsoft from Apple to manage the Far East Fonts for Win3.1.  One of the issues was problem of using fonts made in Taiwan for Mainland China.  Now, it may seem obvious that getting the Beijing governments approval for a version of Windows with fonts from Taiwan would have problems.  This meant we needed a new font supplier that had Beijing's approval. This project is where I got a good dose of doing business in China.  It was 20 years ago, and somethings in China don't change.

TED has a presentation by Michael Anti - Behind the Great China Firewall.

Part of the presentation is how China has their equivalent's inside China.


So today I want to upgrade it to 2.0 version. In China, we have 500 million Internet users.That's the biggest population of Netizens, Internet users, in the whole world. So even though China's is a totally censored Internet, but still, Chinese Internet society is really booming. How to make it? It's simple. You have Google, we have Baidu. You have Twitter, we have Weibo. You have Facebook, we have Renren. You have YouTube, we have Youku and Tudou. The Chinese government blocked every single international Web 2.0 service,and we Chinese copycat every one.

There is a purpose that these social networks provide for the central government.  A way to petition the central government regarding local issues.


But also, Chinese social media isreally changing Chinese mindsets and Chinese life.For example, they give the voiceless peoplea channel to make your voice heard.We had a petition system. It's a remedy outside the judicial system,because the Chinese central government wants to keep amiss,the emperor is good. The old local officials are thugs.So that's why the petitioner, the victims, the peasants,want to take the train to Beijing to petition to the central government,they want the emperor to settle the problem.But when more and more people go to Beijing,they also cause the risk of a revolution.So they send them back in recent years.And even some of them were put into black jails.But now we have Weibo, so I call it the Weibo petition.People just use their cell phones to tweet.

So your sad stories, by some chance your storywill be picked up by reporters, professors or celebrities.One of them is Yao Chen,she is the most popular microblogger in China,who has about 21 million followers.They're almost like a national TV station.If you -- so a sad story will be picked up by her.So this Weibo social media, even in the censorship,still gave the Chinese a real chance for 300 million peopleevery day chatting together, talking together.It's like a big TED, right?But also, it is like the first time a public spherehappened in China.Chinese people start to learn how to negotiateand talk to people.

The story of Twitter vs. Sina Weibo is explained.

But you can't even expand more, no, because Chinese Sina Weibo, when it was foundedwas exactly one month after the official blocking of Twitter.com. That means from the very beginning, Weibo has already convinced the Chinese government, we will not become the stage for any kind of a threat to the regime. For example, anything you want to post, like "get together" or "meet up" or "walk," it is automatically recorded and data mined and reported to a poll for further political analyzing. Even if you want to have some gathering,before you go there, the police are already waiting for you. Why? Because they have the data. They have everything in their hands. So they can use the 1984 scenario data mining of the dissident. So the crackdown is very serious.

Tweets is different in china given the chinese language vs. English.  Michael says tweets are media.  You traditional media wake up.


Why is Chinese social networking, even within the censorship, so booming? Part of the reason is Chinese languages. You know, Twitter and Twitter clones have a kind of a limitation of 140 characters. But in English it's 20 words or a sentence with a short link.Maybe in Germany, in German language, it may be just "Aha!"


But in Chinese language, it's really about 140 characters, means a paragraph, a story. You can almost have all the journalistic elements there. For example, this is Hamlet, of Shakespeare. It's the same content. One, you can see exactly one Chinese tweet is equal to 3.5 English tweets. Chinese is always cheating, right? So because of this, the Chinese really regard this microblogging as a media, not only a headline to media.

There have been past efforts for local governments to run their own data centers.  To have their own source of data, but now it is much harder to build a data center without the central governments approval.


But I want you to notice a very funny thingduring the process of the cat-and-mouse.The cat is the censorship, but Chinese is not only one cat,but also has local cats. Central cat and local cats.


You know, the server is in the local cats' hands,so even that -- when the Netizens criticize the local government,the local government has not any access to the data in Beijing.Without bribing the central cats,he can do nothing, only apologize.

So these three years, in the past three years,social movements about microbloggingreally changed local government,became more and more transparent,because they can't access the data.The server is in Beijing.The story about the train crash,maybe the question is not about why 10 millioncriticisms in five days, but why the Chinese central governmentallowed the five days of freedom of speech online.It's never happened before.And so it's very simple, because even the top leaderswere fed up with this guy, this independent kingdom.So they want an excuse --public opinion is a very good excuse to punish him.

Towards the end Michael makes a good point how microblogging is old technology for a revolution of change.

But this technology is very new, but technically is very old. It was made famous by Chairman Mao, Mao Zedong, because he mobilized millions of Chinese people in the Cultural Revolution to destroy every local government. It's very simple, because Chinese central government doesn't need to even lead the public opinion. They just give them a target window to not censor people. Not censoring in China has become a political tool.

So that's the update about this game, cat-and-mouse. Social media changed Chinese mindset. More and more Chinese intend to embrace freedom of speech and human rights as their birthright, not some imported American privilege. But also, it gave the Chinese a national public sphere for people to, it's like a training of their citizenship, preparing for future democracy. But it didn't change the Chinese political system, and also the Chinese central government utilized this centralized server structure to strengthen its power to counter the local government and the different factions.