Given the number of corrupt officials who were brought down by exposures on Weibo (such as Brother Watch, House Sister, etc.), no one would doubt the importance of Weibo, China’s leading microblogging service, in impacting China’s officialdom culture. And now the assertion is backed by data.
People’s Forum, a magazine under People’s Daily, Chinese Communist Party’s official media, did a survey among 2156 government officials across China. The results showed that over 70% supported the use of Weibo to fight corruption (surprise, surprise). More interestingly, the survey found that more than half of government officials have Weibophobia.
The things that Chinese officials fear the most about Weibo are:
- Some particular “official in question” may bring down the overall image of all government officials as a group, leading to negative sentiments tearing apart the society. (92.8% of respondents agree with the statement)
- Privacy being exposed. Small problems being magnified. (84.2% of respondents agree with the statement)
- Misinformation targeting at “the innocent.” (80.3% of respondents agree with the statement)
- Judged guilty by speaking out words that express personality. (77.6% of respondents agree with the statement)
- Held responsible for having no good performance on Weibo communication ( 58.3% of respondents agree with the statement) [Some local governments in China now use Weibo, such as the number of followers, the number of Weibo posts, etc., to evaluate officials’ performance.]
To the netizens on Weibo, Chinese officials should rightfully be afraid of Weibo. Why? Because like netizen 贵sir commented: “They fear because none of them is clean.” “They fear because they’ve never experienced people’s power of supervision in a democracy,” netizen 张敏编辑 went on.
Xinhua News, the official press agency of the Chinese government, also sided with the netizens: “Weibo has made great contributions to the war against corruption. It helps to check and supervise power abuse. Officials’ fear of Weibo is at heart a fear of their power being limited. To use power with reverence is the only way to cure Weibophobia.”
To many Weiboers, the emergence of Weibopobia is a celebration of the power of onlookers. Netizen 老烟鬼qq hailed: “Officials fear not law but Weibo. What a great news! Weibo has become a key weapon to supervise power.”
On Weibo, activists used to say that “to be an onlooker is to be a contributor” – not everyone has the ability and courage to expose corruption, but everyone has the power to retweet and share.
Last week, Sina announced that Weibo passed 500 million users. That is a lot of onlookers. Clicking share is like casting a vote. Chinese netizens find their own way to get their voices heard. Take the recent case of general Luo Yuan for instance. Top Chinese military officer Luo opened a personal Weibo account last week, with the hope to protect the countr’s, as well as the army’s, interests on Weibo. The attempt was cruelly crashed by Weiboers who showered him with criticism and questions about his credentials of a general and his family wealth.
In the time of Weibo, China’s Communist Party, who used to be the master of propaganda, needs to re-think how to positively influence public opinions without being backfired, like in the case of Luo.
To rely on a social media platform to fight corruption isn’t a good thing per se for China as a country. But it’s probably the best and the most effective tool that the Chinese people have so far.