On November 21, the southwestern province of Yunnan launched China’s first official government microblog feed.
Among the first entries, which are published on the “Twitter-like” Sina microblog platform (新浪微博), was a post about a recent protest in the city of Kunming. The 130-Chinese-character response to the incident was rapid and relatively open.
Since its first post two weeks ago, the Yunnan government has updated its microblog 27 times, using the service to make various announcements, from manufacturing safety records to a drinking song competition in the province. At the time of writing, “Yunnan Microblog” (@云南微博) had 13,087 followers.
Governments use microblogging platforms to achieve various goals. A good microblog, for example, can allow governments to present a more “human” face. Yunnan Microblog, however, is currently little more than a news feed. Posts are written by “Yunnan,” rather than a person with a real name; and, with a couple of exceptions, the language used is dry and official sounding.
Governments can also use microblogs to monitor public sentiment. One of the ways Sina’s microblogging platform is different from Twitter is that it allows comments under each post. The Kunming protest entry, for example, received 41 comments. However, since Chinese social media platforms engage in self-censorship, Sina Microblog is unlikely to provide opportunities to speak out against government. As one person joked, “No comment… too afraid.”
This same feature could also have been used to create more interactive dialogue between netizens and the government. Yunnan Microblog, however, is yet use the platform to respond to any of its comments.
While conservative use of the platform, combined with China’s Internet restrictions, may limit the platform’s potential for meaningful engagement, Yunnan is certain to benefit in some way from this involvement in the online conversation. The provincial government and the public have a new direct link to one another. This, at the very least, is a step in the right direction.