China’s versions of Twitter, called weibos, were able to get much of the truth about the train crash there that killed 36 people and injured many more out and past government censors.
Many people in China, despite censored and a state-controlled media, were not fooled by the Chinese governments official accounts that the weather and some other gobbledygook caused the two trains to collide. What makes services like Twitter so interesting for democracy and the freedom of information is that new messages come in so fast that they are really hard to censor:
“I call it the microblogging revolution,” Zhan Jiang, a professor of international journalism and communications at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said in an interview on Thursday. “In the last year, microbloggers, especially Sina and Tencent, have played more and more a major role in coverage, especially breaking news.”
Just look at these messages that got by government censors:
Then the reaction began to pour in. “Such a major accident, how could it be attributed to weather and technical reasons?” blogged Cai Qi, a senior Zhejiang Province official. “Who should take the responsibility? The railway department should think hard in this time of pain and learn a good lesson from this.”
From a Hubei Province blogger: “I just watched the news on the train crash in Wenzhou, but I feel like I still don’t even know what happened. Nothing is reliable anymore. I feel like I can’t even believe the weather forecast. Is there anything that we can still trust?”
But, no more. I’ve tested Google+ first-hand on all three of China’s broadband or mobile networks: on China Telecom broadband, China Mobile GPRS internet, and China Unicom 3G (pictured below) on my mobile, and on all of them Google+ no longer exists. It seems all the networks got the memo.
China is being rather proactive about this. Google+ isn’t even a product that most people can use yet. Social media is extremely powerful (as we have seen in the Middle East), and repressive regimes clearly fear it.