This weekend, the Chinese government cracked down hard on two microblog services, Sina Weibo and Tencent's QQ Weibo. (The image shows their mascots, muzzled.)
On the Chinese Internet, microblogs have become enormously important. These services, which are essentially enriched versions of Twitter, have become the Chinese netizens' primary way to discuss political matters, comment on scandals and rumors, and express themselves. IEEE Spectrum recently explored the growing power and the internal threat posed by the biggest Chinese microblog service, Sina Weibo, in the article "What Are You Allowed to Say on China's Social Networks?" There are now more than 300 million users on Sina Weibo.
On Friday, the two services posted identical notices saying that users could still tweet and retweet material, but they could no longer comment on other users' tweets, thus shutting down the lively conversational aspect of the services. China's official news agency said the action was taken to punish the microblog services for allowing rumors to spread. The comment ban is expected to be lifted on Tuesday, April 3.
Many Chinese netizens (as they call themselves) have been waiting for some kind of axe to fall. This winter, the Chinese government announced that all microblog users would be required to register their accounts under their real names (although they could continue to use pseudonyms as screen names). The regulations also required microblog services to review the posts of users who have more than 100,000 followers, and to delete any posts that harmed national interests. The deadline for real-name registration was set at March 16, a date that bloggers took to calling "weipocalypse."
But that deadline came and went, and users who hadn't registered their real names continued to use the services. It's not clear why. At the excellent blog Tech in Asia, C. Custer wonders whether Sina Weibo failed to enforce the restrictions in order to test the government's resolve.
Eliza Strickland is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum, where she covers AI, biomedical engineering, and other topics. She holds a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.