Government ministries and departments now have more than 50000 twitter-like micro blog accounts in China. The data was released by leading Chinese website www.sina.com, which runs Sina Weibo (micro blog) the most popular such platform in China.
“Sina Weibo has become an important tool for the government, providing more effective communication and an interactive platform for the government and the public," the report said.
There are 538 million internet users in China and by the end of 2011, nearly 250 million of them were commenting on micro blogs. Having said that, the Chinese government is also among the toughest censors in the world. Hence the question, why allow social networking at all?
This brings us to the probable surmise that the government has allowed micro blogs to function to find out what citizens are thinking about its policies. It allows them to make critical comments on issues that impact them, like the thousands of comments lambasting the Beijing government for failing to tackle the floods in July.
But what about comments and opinions which go beyond criticism of policies and become criticism of the politics? Or comments that take sympathetic views on issues which the Communist Party of China (CPC) is hostile to? Or sharing of information on weibo which the CPC might think is threatening stability, like old pictures of tanks at Tiananmen Square? Block. Delete.
"When the leadership allowed social media to flourish they also allowed the full range of expression of negative and positive comments about the state, its policies, and its leaders.
As a result, government policies sometimes look as bad, and leaders can be as embarrassed, as is often the case with elected politicians in democratic countries, but, as they seem to recognize, looking bad does not threaten their hold on power so long as they manage to eliminate discussions with collective action potential — where a locus of power and control, other than the government, influences the behaviors of masses of Chinese citizens," suggests a Harvard University study in June on censorship here.
So, information on Tibet is blocked. But if a citizen wants to criticise local transport authorities over a bus accident, please feel free.
The three Harvard researchers probably said it best, "With respect to speech, the Chinese people are individually free but collectively in chains."