Much of the China-watching internet predicted trouble for Weibo after the Wenzhou train wreck. Weibo served as a forum for Chinese discontent, with the tone of comments becoming overwhelmingly negative towards the government. It looks like we were right:
Beijing’s Communist Party chief issued a veiled warning to Chinese Internet portal Sina over its Weibo microblogging service after a visit to the company’s headquarters, a sign of the government’s growing anxiety over Weibo’s explosive growth and spreading influence that threatens the government’s media controls.
Internet companies should “step up the application and management of new technology, and absolutely put an end to fake and misleading information,” Liu Qi, secretary of the Beijing Municipal Party Committee and a member of the Party’s powerful Politburo, told company executives during Monday’s visit according to state media.
The high-level attention poses a dilemma for Sina, which doesn’t want to fall foul of Party propaganda officials, but whose commercial future increasingly depends on its ability to keep alive an edgy national discourse.
Reinforcing those fears are a series of recent editorials in state-run newspapers discussing the need for a more robust effort to refute “rumors” online, with a particular emphasis on microblogging sites.
Against that background, a visit to Sina’s offices from a top Party official has potentially ominous implications.
“This kind of thing–these visits–have been going on a long time, but if it’s the Party secretary of Beijing, that does seem to be sending a fairly clear signal,” Jeremy Goldkorn, founder of Danwei, a website that tracks Chinese media, said Tuesday.
Afraid of the fallout from shuttering it themselves, they clearly hope that Weibo can be pressured into controlling itself. I guess that’s possible, but Weibo executives are probably well aware that killing the discourse on Weibo will kill their company. Failing that, the government figure out some plan to cripple the service without openly closing it- perhaps real ID registration requirements?