Social Media – A Mirror to Chinese People

The Chinese government is very “protective” of its citizens, not allowing us to hear the “horrible western lies” and forbidding us from visiting all of the leading social media sites that are available for everyone on the earth except us Chinese. Therefore, when I first came to the U.S., I realized that I was able to access these representatives of the global social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, etc. without switching on the VPN (Virtual Private Network)! My second thought was that whether these social media sites were accessible or not, it did not really matter, at least for the majority of Chinese internet users because the “walled” Chinese social media functions the same way as American social media does. No matter how screened or manipulated the information coming from the government is, Chinese citizens are always able to find and seek out the truth, and that reality may be different from the “official saying.” The Chinese population could be characterized as the naughty boys who rebel against their parents by trying very hard to do what “our parents”, also known as our government, do not want us to do. I must say that Chinese social media has changed the way we look at the world and ourselves.

For Chinese Social Networking, we have Renren-a clone, an advanced version of the Facebook; Sina Weibo-a microblogging Twitter type service, and Tudou, Youku, and Ku6 for video sharing, similar to YouTube. These local Chinese social media outlets are allowed to survive because they were created in China. The Chinese web is growing quickly and is becoming increasingly entertaining. Take Sina Weibo (Twitter type service) for example: a user profile on Sina Weibo displays the user’s name, and brief description of the user, the number of followers and followees, and the number of tweets the user made. A user profile also displays the user’s recent tweets and retweets. Similar to Twitter, there are two types of user accounts on Sina Weibo, regular accounts and verified user accounts. A verified user account typically represents a well known public figure or organization in China. Sina Weibo has reported in the annual report that it has more than 60,000 verified accounts consisting of celebrities, sports stars, well known organizations (both Government and commercial) and other VIPs.

The most controversial issue that first appeared in Sina Weibo (the Chinese microblogging site) and soon spread among the whole country was China’s Red Cross Scandal. On June 21st, 2011 a 20-year-old Chinese girl named Guo Meimei was first exposed on Sina Weibo for showing off her wealth, and even identifying herself as the “Business General Manager of Red Cross Society.” Within 2 hours, her Sina Weibo post was shared over a thousand times. As time passed by, this scandal continued to develop with the content of her SinaWeibo retweeted over 100,000 times. The incident soon received more attention, spreading from the social media to the mass media. As many TV programs and paper mediums were not limited to focusing on the wealth of the young girl or her fake position, but rather upon the private use of donations and lack of transparency in tracking donations within nonprofit organizations. While Guo Meimei did not do anything particularly wrong, her post shed light on donations being used inappropriately, and pressured the government to thoroughly investigate such matters. This is just one of many social issues being highlighted and improved through social media.

Social media in China has become one of the most effective ways to release public opinions and lead trending topics. More social problems are uncovered or exposed, not as in the past where it was closed-end management. China is still new to social media, with in which some issues do arise, such as internet censorship and the government’s efforts in response to problems. However, we are all confident in believing that Chinese social media’s landscape is not a dead end, but a land of opportunities.