Micro-Blogging in China
Thursday, July 09, 2009 at 07:11 PM EDT
During recent turmoil in Xinjiang, China again revealed the Chinese Communist Partyâ€™s (CCP) ability to stonewall Internet access regionally, and block sites such as Twitter nationally. However, with the growth of domestic copy-cat micro-blogging services such as Fanfou, TaoTao, Jiwai, Komoo, Zuosa, and Digu, Chinaâ€™s government may be losing their cat and mouse game with connected denizens. Broad proliferation of comparable micro-blogging services are making central control harder to manage. For example, despite recent turmoil in Western China, according to the Berkman Centerâ€™s Herdict Project, all of the above sites are still accessible except forÂ Fanfou.com which recently went down for â€œserver maintenance.â€ Although Fanfou was supposed to come back online on June 6, it is still suspiciously inaccessible. Protracted unavailability of Fanfou points to possible CCP involvement to stifle destabilizing conversation. However, most other domestic micro-blogging services â€“even Jiwai.de, Komoo.cn,Â Digu.com andÂ Zuosa.com which bear striking resemblance to Twitterâ€“ are still accessible in China. Perhaps user bases differ, and the CCP has shrewdly allowed for this less-threatening Internet persistence. More likely, however, is the fact that a plurality of diversely-hosted, yet similar, services is becoming tougher to patrol.
Another emerging form of domestic communication is Tencentâ€™s Instant Messaging (IM) onÂ QQ.com. No site in China enables greater horizontal web communication thanÂ QQ.com, now the 9th largest web property in the world. Founded by Pony Ma in 1998, Tencent â€“a Chinese-listed company earning $1.2 billion annually in revenue, 88 percent via the sale of â€œvirtual goodsâ€ rather than online advertisingâ€“ has over 570 million registered users of its IM service. In January Tencent launched an English version of the IM platform atÂ IMQQ.com, and a 3G version that offers QQ chat, real-time news, and search engine accessible over mobile phone.
Many users in Western China, and across rural China, do not have email accounts. And many rural Chinese view and understand the Internet as Tencent, the platform on which theyâ€™ve grown up. In fact, as of March 2009 China had as many active Tencent QQ users as it officially had people online. Despite focus on access to Google and Twitter â€“observations of Tweet trends, and Google search engine query data patternsâ€“ undoubtedly most relevant in China is continued access to those domestic services of communication most widely used by Chinese citizens.
As advised last week by a Chinese colleague â€“â€œmail me at my university account. The government might shut down Google, but they never mess with my college emailâ€â€“ the CCP is selectively choosing what to patrol, because it canâ€™t do it all. While the Western media predominately pay attention to the CCP denying access to Western sites and services, domestic entrepreneurship and a swelling offering of overlapping tools of communication are mitigating the effectiveness of the Internet muzzle. In line with Ethan Zuckermanâ€™s Cute Cate Theory, Web 2.0 may have been created to share photos of adorable creatures, but new platforms for user-generated content are empowering digital activism in profound ways. For the CCP, perhaps itâ€™s the â€œcute cat,â€ that is now out of the bag.
This article originally appeared on Internet & Democracy Blog.