Gone are the days when Chinese bloggers on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter, rushed to get “verified accounts.” As Beijing’s anti-rumor campaign targeted at celebrity bloggers spins on, more and more verified accounts are seeking to “un-V” themselves in hopes of getting a little bit more room to speak their minds online.
Originally, Weibo’s verified accounts are similar to that of Twitter’s – known people or organizations, after going through Sina’s verification process, will have the verification badge, a capitalized letter “v”, added next to their account names. These verified accounts are what later netizens call the “Big Vs.”
In Weibo’s early days, Big Vs and their enthusiastic followers are one of the most important reasons why the site was able to gain momentum in a very short period of time. Verified accounts command a higher degree of trust from netizens and they gather followers much easier. Their posts get more comments and shares.
Even today, Big Vs still play a key role in keeping the microblogging ecosystem alive. Big Vs, willingly or not, are seen as opinion leaders online, serving as hubs of information dissemination. A post’s number of shares by Big V accounts, more often than not, determines whether it can reach trending status.
But being popular online can be both good and bad in China. The good is easy to understand. As Xue Manzi, a recently arrested Big V with over 12 million followers on Weibo, said during interrogation: “Being a Big V is like being an emperor.” The bad thing is that the Chinese government isn’t happy about thousands of “emperors” online.
From the Beijing meeting in August that urged Big Vs to self-censor, to the arrest of Weibo celebrity Xue Manzi. From the new rule that a popular tweet with 500+ shares may cost 3 years in jail to the recent arrest of another Big V Wang Gongquan who is a prominent investor and avid liberal voice. Beijing’s message to bloggers is pretty clear – mind your mouth or be prepared to get into trouble. So it’s no surprise that more and more bloggers now seek to “un-V” themselves, in hopes of keeping off radar of the anti-rumor campaign and getting more freedom to speak, even if only temporarily.
Another Big-V-used-to-be 马钿, when asked about whether he feels he can speak more freely after being unverified, thus responded: “Yes, much more freely.”
“To avoid unwanted troubles, I already unverified my account,” explained another netizen 过客肖华 to his followers on why the big “V” badge besides his name disappeared.
Fears aside, many of them started to question whether Beijing should set Big V accounts as its target because Big V accounts don’t always equal to popular accounts. For example, grass-root Weibo celebrity and popular liberal voice 作业本 with over 6 million followers isn’t a verified account. Star singer Wang Fei, whose recent divorce message got shared more than 600,000 times in less than 10 hours, isn’t a Big V.
Many of those who plan to unverify themselves or those who already did are the less popular accounts with only a few thousands of followers. The big-v status, which once brings followers and credibility, now is more likely to bring trouble. In their eyes, the big “V” has changed from a badge of honor and popularity to a badge of danger.
A question to Sina’s vice president in charge of content posted by real estate tycoon 潘石屹, a true Big V with over 16 million followers, perfectly concludes the current situation:
“Why did you attach a big V to our names in the first place? (I’m asking in crying tone)”