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China: The Risk of Shutting Up Sina Weibo is Zero!?

The reaction of the Chinese government towards the anonymous “Jasmine Revolution” message circulated around overseas dissident websites and Twitter has alerted investment banks’ analysts to cut the rating of Sina's stock value. Some banks apparently anticipate an increase in the risk of the Chinese government tightening regulations on social media, in particular on “Twitter-like” service such as Sina Weibo.

Today, (February 24 2010), Sina Tech News highlighted a newly-released report from Piper Jaffray which estimates the risk of Sina Weibo being shut down within the next month as less than 20%. The report also states optimistically that Sina could ultimately monetize Weibo users at potentially $1-2 dollars per users within the next 3-5 years through sponsored posts and a daily deal service.

However, the issue at stake is probably not whether Sina Weibo will be able to survive, but on Sina Weibo users’ toleration of its censorship practice. Sina blogger Fan Wenxin points out that the space for free speech relies on government's confidence:

很难说这种信心是否发生了变化。有关微博的限制正在成为越来越多人的话题。上
周末,香港歌星黄耀明用英文写到他的一个帖子也被删除了。更多用户对此早已司
空见惯。正在普及开来的是其他的控制技术。

It is difficult to tell if the government's confidence has indeed been eroded. Weibo's restriction has become a hot topic these days. Last weekend, a Hong Kong popstar Wong Yui Ming wrote in English that his microblog had been deleted. Many users are becoming used to such practice. Techniques of control are become more and more prevalent.

In addition to deleting posts, Sina Weibo also screens users’ updates from their followers and the public timeline. Regarding this, the following comments were solicited by Fan from other Weibo users:

上海用户 @夏商 给了我一个听上去合理的答案。他说新浪试图隐蔽
河蟹是不愿意得罪用户。微博“需要我们这样的捣蛋鬼,靠风花雪月是没有吸引力的。
但不控制,微博又无法生存。”

A user @Xiasheng from Shanghai has given me a reasonable answer. He said Sina's screening out of messages is to avoid direct conflict with the users. Weibo “needs outspoken people. It cannot attract so many people with entertainment news. However, if it fails to control its users, it cannot survive.”

Predictably, censorship measures have resulted in a tense relationship between the company and its users. When the government tightens it control over online speech, and Weibo as a result has to suffer in order to survive under the censorship system, the conflict intensifies.

Which helps explain why Sina deputy director Chen Tong (under the username Lao Chen 老沉) popped up in the Sina Tech News’ Weibo thread this morning, claiming that the chance of Sina Weibo being shut down within next 20 years is 0%. Many Weibo users reacted strongly to his assertion, and criticized the current self-censorship practices.

Here is a selection of comments, starting with Lao Chen's statement:

老沉 既然说到这个问题了,兄弟我认为:20年内新浪围脖被关闭的可能性是零。(今天 09:11)

老沉 Now that the issue has emerged, brothers, in my opinion, the chance of Sina Weibo being shut down within next 20 years is zero. (Today 09:11)

韩羽 您这边这么严格要求自己,当然不可能被关闭。(今天 09:13)

Han Xiang: You place such strict demands upon yourself, of course you won't be shut down. (Today 09:13)

乱了感觉围脖 只会阉,不会死。(今天 09:13)

Feel Weibo Crazy: Sina will only be castrated, it won't die. (Today 09:13)

还有啥昵称能用 不关,可能出问题,;关了,一定出问题。(今天 09:13)

What Other Name: While it's online, it might create some problems; once it gets shut down, it will definitely cause problems. (Today 09:13)

璇的简约生活 是的。删帖关人就是了,为什么要关围脖(今天 09:15)

Reduced Life of Jade: Right, all you have to do is delete posts and shut down users’ accounts, you don't have to shut down all of Weibo (Today 09:15)

Hawk-yin 老沉盲目乐观了,一旦发微博的不知节制,管制之锤就必定落下,不信赌一局如何?(今天 09:15)

Hawk-yin: Lao Chen is blindly optimistic. Once the users lose control, the hammer will definitely fall down upon the website. Let's have a bet on this. (Today 09:15)

五味寿司 一扇门打开了,想关上就不那么容易了。如果微博被关闭,我指的是被关闭,有没有人愿意去散步的?(今天 09:16)

Five Flavor Sushi: Once a door is opened, it is very difficult to close again. If Weibo gets shut down by force, is there anyone who would like to go for a stroll? (Today 09:16)

中国日报徐扬 能够预测20年后,不是靠人力,而是神力了!!(今天 09:16)

China Daily Xu Yang: Only God can predict something that might happen 20 years from now. (Today 09:16)

山上没有神仙 新浪在党的领导下是不会被关闭的.(今天 09:17)

No Fairies on the Mountain: Under the leadership of the Party (CCP), Sina will not be shut down. (Today 09:17)

孙卡拉 被叫停风险还是有的,被公众抛弃的风险也是有的。(今天 09:20)

Sun Kala: There is a risk of Weibo getting shut down, and there is also a risk of people abandoning it. (Today 09:20)

钟启华_cola 只会阉,不会关。外国投行真是扯蛋,对中国缺乏基本常识。就这理解能力,中国网络股在美国怎么跌怎么涨都正常。叫停风险0.2%都不到,别说两成了。与其担心政策风险,担心盈利模式更实在。(今天 09:20)

Amazing China_cola: It will only be castrated and will not shut down. Foreign investment banks are talking bullshit. They don't have any common sense about China. That's why it is normal for the stock value to go up and down. The risk is less than 0.2%, the worry should not be over censorship regulations but on having a profit-making model. (Today 09:20)

丹青兰 被关闭的概率很小,不超过10%,但被监控,被整改的可能性是实实在在存在滴 (今天 09:21)

Orchid Painting: The chance of Weibo getting shut down is very small, less than 10%. But monitoring and manipulation is part of the reality. (Today 09:21)

子曰可说不可说 要蛋定。SINA围脖关闭不关闭,不取决于你我,取决于天朝相关管理部门。就算有朝一日,犯了太岁,被迫关闭,也没啥,人总要活下去,以前没有围脖不是一样过得挺好?全世界银民都有FACETIME,天朝没有,不是一样过?一切都是浮云啊,浮云。(今天 09:22)

Confucius Says Stop Talking: Let's stay calm. We are not in a position to decide whether Sina Weibo would be shut down or not. It all depends on the dynasty's control department. Even if it does offend some gods and one day is forced to shut down, we still need to carry on with our lives. We had a good life before Weibo, too. All the people in the world can visit Facebook while we can't, but still we survive. Everything is just an illusion…an illusion… (Today 09:22)

刘兴亮 既然说到这个问题了,兄弟我认为:2天内新浪围脖被关闭的可能性是零。 (今天 09:24)

Liu Xingliang: Now that the issue has emerged, brothers, in my opinion, the chance of Sina Weibo being shut down within the next 2 days is zero. (Today 09:24)

胡胡山山 老沉真牛!在中国,企业只能看清未来3-5年的发展道路。您一下就看到20年,厉害!20年后我们还用微博吗?可能3年后我们就不用了(今天 09:26)

HuHuShanShan: Lao Chen is so awesome! In China, any corporation can only foresee its prospects for the next 3-5 years, but you can foresee ahead 20 years! Are we all still using Weibo 20 years from now? Probably in 3 years time, we'll all have given up the tool.(Today 09:26)

iscoder 会不会变成国企 被人民网收购!?(今天 09:37)

iscoder: Is there any chance of Sina corporation becoming nationalized, bought up by the People's Daily Net? (Today 09:37)

竹子的城市 不会被关,但有可能会在不同时期不断的被暂停使用(今天 09:41)

Bamboo City: It won't get shut down. But it will probably be suspended from time to time. (Today 09:41)

老新闻民工 天朝的事情很难说 ,说不定下一秒就关了(今天 09:51)

Old Migrant News Worker: It is very difficult to predict what could happen in this heavenly kingdom. There is always a chance that it could get shut down within the next second. (Today 09:51)

砚枫的勃勃 在我看来新浪已经是一个半官方的互联网媒体,再加上他在媒体运营上的经验积累,只要敏感话题控制到位,ZG不会做冒天下之大不韪的浑事!(今天 09:58)

Vigorous Beifeng: In my opinion, Sina is already a semi-official Internet media. It has rich experience in operating other media: once its has full control over sensitive content, the government would not take the risk to agitate people. (Today 09:58)

白云出岫读书 死是不会死,问题是怎么个活法。(今天 10:25)

Reading Below Mountain Valley Clouds: Sina won't die. The issue at stake is how will it survive. (Today 10:25)

胜祥之道 关就关吧。思想在我脑子里。这代领导人不让写,就等着大陆跟台湾合并之后再写。酒越陈越香。总不能把我的脑子割下来吧?(今天 11:24)

胜祥之道 Let it get shut down. My thought is in my brain. This generation of leaders do not allow us to write, we can wait until the day when China reunifies with Taiwan. Similar to wine, the longer it sits, the better it tastes. They can't just chop my head off, right? (Today 11:24)

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