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  • Jul 11, 2014
  • Updated: 8:03pm

Does blogs' blooming mean schools of thought can contend?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 December, 2011, 12:00am

Where do mainlanders get their news, on any given day? Increasingly, they're turning to microblogs - Twitter-like forums that allow messages in short bursts of up to 140 characters - not only to read what's happening, but also get word out.

On Friday morning for instance, no sooner had winter's first flakes of snow fallen on the capital than Beijing residents were uploading videos and photos of the event onto their feeds. If they logged on to Beijing Capital International Airport's microblog they had updates on flight delays and cancellations.

Across town, Yan Lianke, Renmin University literature professor, was using his feed to generate public support for his petition to state leaders to stop the forced acquisition of his home and those of 30 neighbours in the suburbs.

Elsewhere in the country, Shanghainese investor Zhu Jun was using his microblogs to promote his soccer club, and Wuhan police were busy responding to news about a blast at a bank the previous day - an incident first reported by local microbloggers.

Faster than anyone would have thought, microblogs have become part of the fabric of urban life in a country where media has been highly centralised. So much so that some newspapers and online portals have even started publishing updates on 'hot microblogs' throughout the day.

Whether the country has entered an age of mass journalism is still up for debate but, as Xinhua said in an analysis piece, it has become a country where 'everyone has a microphone and can spread news'.

Just one year ago, at the end of 2010, the official number of microbloggers was 63 million. Six months later and that figure had more than tripled to 195 million. By the end of last month, there were 300 million. All this in a place where there are about 500 million internet users, according to Xinhua.

Although official censorship cuts the mainland's web users off from international sites and services like Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia and YouTube, mainland microblogs are taking on a life of their own and becoming a large and dynamic pool of news and comment.

'Even though only one-tenth of China's internet users are discussing current affairs, their views hold sway in China's politics, economy and society,' Xinhua said.

Many microblogs are found on Sina, a general information portal. By the end of September, Sina's microblog users alone generated 86 million posts a day.

In the past year, microbloggers have been at the forefront of expos?s involving suspected official corruption and dereliction of duty, including revelations about July's high-speed train crash, the official People's Daily noted in an analysis on Thursday.

But as with most changes, government agencies have been slow to respond to the massive number of questions and complaints arising on the internet.

Only Beijing and Shanghai - two municipalities under the central government's direct jurisdiction - have launched official microblogs, and both only did so late last month.

Shanghai's Wenhui Daily praised the city government's decision to launch microblogs on several popular websites at once, including Sina, Tencent, Eastday and Xinmin.cn.

But can the government, a centralised bureaucracy, handle its microblogs well enough to build a closer relationship with its citizens? There are doubts.

The Guangzhou Daily warned that unless the authorities demonstrated sincerity by promptly and appropriately dealing with crises and opinions, a government microblog could compromise an agency's public image.

There are also government microblogs which, in the words of a Southern Weekend columnist, are there for show or for publicity.

On Legaldaily.com.cn, Legal Daily's website, one report said the country's various government agencies had a total of 40,000 microblogs. But some of them were never updated and their operators never responded to questions. 'They further erode society's trust in the government,' it said.

For government microblogs to be successful, a commentary on People (www.people.com.cn) said, the agencies not only have to learn about the new technology, but more importantly, about the political ideas that come along with it.

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