Chinese Twitter Plans English Launch: Implications for Censorship

By: Matt Lavigueur on 14 June 2011

Chinese online media company Sina Corp. recently announced its plans to launch an English version of its already popular microblogging site Weibo this year. Weibo, which has been dubbed by many as the “Chinese Twitter” and serves as the dominant microblogging tool within China, where Twitter is blocked, may now be poised to poach current Twitter users as it expands to English users.

Weibo, unlike Twitter, is self-censored by Sina in compliance with Chinese government censorship policies. Weibo’s future position in the online world as a microblogging option with global reach that is based in a country that practices rigorous censorship will likely to have significant implications for online freedom of expression. As Weibo expands its user base, it will be expanding the reach of online Chinese censorship. In a Wall Street Journal article, it was indicated that China would likely filter Weibo’s English platform content. The author writes, “When asked if Sina will filter content on an English Weibo, the company spokesman said Sina will continue to comply with Chinese regulations.”

In spite of censored material, there will be significant incentives for non-Chinese users to sign up for Weibo’s English counterpart. Weibo would allow more direct access to microbloggers in China, and Weibo contains several features not currently available on Twitter such as the ability to comment on posts, directly include audio or pictures, and start vote counts. However, as indicated in the Wall Street Journal article, “China’s censorship rules could be a major hurdle for Sina overseas, and its services will need to meet a substantial demand not already met by Twitter or other websites”
Whether or not Weibo’s practical incentives will effectively counterbalance global user concerns of Chinese censorship remains to be seen.