If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. The Chinese government is launching a big effort to embrace microblogging, with municipalities, bureaus and other bodies opening official accounts on Sina Weibo, the local Twitter clone, the WSJ reports.These authorities are turning to Weibo for the same reasons everyone else is turning to Twitter: to push out updates and communicate in real-time with their “constituents.” Microblogging overall is on fire in China.
Here’s the probable reasons behind the move:
- Damping down internet protest. Microblogging networks like Weibo and Twitter are often an avenue of internet protest that the Chinese government has found hard to tamp down, because of the light-weight, real-time nature of microblogging. People might be less apt to tweet against the government if the police is visibly there, following you.
- Government responsiveness. China is obviously an authoritarian government. But the Chinese central government sometimes looks favourably on (in a “two steps forward one step back” way) people demanding accountability from their local governments, as a way of deflecting anti-central government impulses and fighting corruption. Getting local government to microblog is a common sense, good government idea that can improve Chinese administration without leaning too much in the way of crazy ideas of democracy.
- Economic protectionism. Despite being routinely blocked, Twitter is still huge and growing in China. The Chinese government doesn’t like it when US tech companies succeed in China. For the average citizen, getting local government reports might be one more reason to be on Sina Weibo and not Twitter.
What remains to be seen is whether this will play out the way the Chinese government intends, or whether that embrace of microblogging will only favour a medium that is so hard to control and so prone to flaring out in ways the Chinese government might not like.