Sina Weibo Updates User Contract with More Content Restrictions

By: Qichen Zhang on 17 May 2012

Last week, Voice of America reported that Sina Weibo, China's largest microblogging service, has released a new user contract. Updates to the contract include agreeing not to post content deemed "untrue," threatening to "the honor of the nation," promoting "evil teachings, or anything that "destroys societal stability." The announcement of the new contract solicited over 27,000 comments on the Weibo corporate website. The Wall Street Journal blog followed the commentary, which included both supporters and opponents. Many called it a move toward censorship and authoritarian regulation. Said one commenter, “All this does is provide an excuse for arbitrary take-downs."

According to the new contract, punishments doled out for violating these new rules include preventing others from following the perpetrating user as well as deleting the Weibo account entirely. Content will be managed by a "rumor control" team comprised of regular users who consistently patrol the site for content that offends. Furthermore, Weibo will now utilize a points system to manage potential offenders:

Under the new system, each Weibo account will begin with an initial “credit score” of 80 points, with a maximum of 100 points that can be obtained through user participation in various promotional activities, not yet specified by Sina Weibo. Weibo accounts on which user misconduct has transpired will, adversely, suffer point deductions. When an account’s credit score falls below 60 points, a warning reading “Low Credit” will appear on the corresponding section of that user’s microblog; accounts that drop to 0 credit points will be canceled.

As one of the largest Internet companies in the country with over 300 million registered users, Sina Weibo received a significant amount of criticism for its move toward censorship. After rumors of a political coup in April disseminated rapidly over the Weibo network, the Communist Party criticized the company for not controlling user publishing and has demanded that Sina more firmly regulate the site. However, optimists view it as a small step toward more transparency in the country regarding Internet expression. Others say that this new contract will change little about China's social media landscape, given that Weibo already censors content with a heavy hand.