The first headache is trying to work out how to sign up. I speak no mandarin at all. So Google Chrome with built in Google Translate did the job. Signup with my @jonworth.eu e-mail did not work, but Gmail did. This site assisted me further. In the end I managed to get it to work, and you can find my profile here. The basic impression is that it’s like the website version of Twitter – with a series of added embellishments – it wants me to give relationship status and tell it my blood group. I also managed to set my location to outside China, but it’s now stuck to USA rather than Denmark. Anyway, the basics are more or less set.
But then comes the fun bit: writing on Weibo. My first 2 weibos were tech-related, but the third was:
Meanwhile Van Rompuy posts here about the pope and congratulatory messages to President Xi Jinping. Imagine what UK journalists would make of it…
And this is what happened:
Remove the words ‘Xi Jinping’ and it posts OK. Post a weibo that says “I love Xi Jinping” and that is not allowed either. Basically whatever the rest of the sentence, Xi Jinping is not allowed. And this, remember, is one one of the two largest social networking sites in China.
So, you say, this is China. Get used to it.
Well, yes, but it’s also a lesson for Europe too. With calls to stamp out racism on social networks growing in France, and David Cameron calling for a clampdown on social networks during the UK riots, Europe is not immune to these pressures. Yet as my small Sina Weibo example shows, a machine cannot know if I am being kind to, or undermining a Chinese politician. Likewise a machine cannot clearly analyse if a tweet I write is anti-semitic, or if my social networking activities are likely to cause social unrest. So perhaps my little experiment on Chinese social media today might have some lessons for European politicians. I can only hope.