Are Chinese netizens on Weibo just a bunch of “three-low” losers?

Alia | June 25th, 2013 - 11:22 pm

That seems to be the conclusion made by the News and Communications Research Center under China’s Academy of Social Sciences (CASS). The Center released its 2013 China New Media Development Report yesterday, and Chinese netizens are not happy with what they read about themselves.

Weibo, as a form of social media, has provided one of the most dynamic platforms for online interaction in China. Sina, Tencent, Sohu and Netease are the four biggest players in the country’s mocroblog market. Sina Weibo, in particular, has long evolved from a simple micrblog service to the front line of grass-root activism and anti-corruption campaigns with its over 500 million registered users. Through weibo, many see the rising of a civil society in China. Of course, it has also become a key platform through which numerous media, both in and outside of China, try to feel the pulse of the “Chinese people,” including this little blog. Data from the CASS report may challenge many of our premises. 

The report by CASS, while confirmed the amazing growth of weibo, labeled the majority of weibo users as a group of “low age, low education level and low income” urban dwellers. The report concluded that:

  1. 74.88% of China’s weibo users (from all weibo users, not only Sina Weibo) have an education level of high school or below.
  2. Students account for the largest segment on weibos.
  3. 92.2% have a monthly income of RMB 5000 yuan or less, among which the majority has no income at all. Again, because most are students.

How these “young and poor students” react to the report? “It’s completely BS!” many netizens on Sina Weibo commented. They doubted how CASS got its numbers and the general authenticity of the data, especially the low education level numbers. Like one netizen Iris commented: “I never believed in any statistics from the CASS.” And honestly, in a country where the average monthly income per capital is around RMB 2000 yuan, an income of RMB 5000 yuan per month is far from being low. 

Another netizen 五交化电器商城’s question was sharper: “Is this a first step to harmonize our voices? Because we netizens are either poor or not independent yet, and thus don’t understand life.” The view is shared by many. Netizen MidoTang commented: “The lengthy report is just trying to prove one point, that is, netizens’ voices on weibo don’t represent the mainstream voice of the Chinese people.” Many see the report as an effort by authorities to undermine weibo’s current influence in the country’s social and political life. But could these netizens be the one who missed the bigger picture? 

The report also acknowledged weibo’s contribution to anti-corruption efforts. From 2010 to 2012, the numbers of corruption cases exposed on weibos were 67, 58 and 31 respectively, twice as many as on traditional media.

However, the report also claimed that among the 100 hottest topics on weibos from January 2012 to January 2013, rumors were observed in 1/3 of them. To make things worse, when media accounts started to share the news on weibo, they used headlines like “1/3 of weibo hot topics are rumors.” Needless to say, netizens are not happy.

Among the 1000-something comments left to a front page story by Beijing Evening News titled “One Third of Weibo Hot Topics are Rumors,” most were a simple “F@ck off”.

Beijing Evening News front page

Beijing Evening News front page

Many netizens joked that if 1/3 of the content on weibo’s top trending list are rumors, then half of the content on state-controlled tradition media must be lies. Weibo celebrity 作家-天佑 replied to the accusation: “1/3 of weibo’s hot topics are rumors. 1/3 of the content on official media are not rumors.” Another weibo celebrity 作业本 also joked: “1/3 of weibo’s hot topics are rumors. 2/3 of CCTV News (China Central Television) are fairy tales.”

Later, a few media, including Party mouthpiece People’s Daily, made corrections, saying that they’ve mis-read the report. But damage is done. In the eyes of many netizens, irresponsible journalism at many of China’s government-controlled media organizations is exactly the reason why there is a market for online rumors in the first place. 

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