Sept. 16 - China's microblogs face tighter controls, as censors struggle to keep pace with nearly 200 million users. Arnold Gay reports.
China's booming microblogs have the nation's youth hooked, but the government worried. These microblogs carry plenty of celebrity gossip, chat and entertainment. But they often also offer noisy forums to criticize officials, and report unrest and abuse of power. With nearly 200 million microbloggers, who post tens of millions of messages each day, China's Internet censors are struggling keep pace. Fears are growing of a clampdown by Beijing, much to the dismay of users like investment banker Ms Sun. (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) INVESTMENT BANKER MS. SUN SAYING: "I don't think it's good that the government controls it. And how can they control it fully? Who sets the standard for what you can say and what you can't? Should it be the officials who decide, or should we all discuss it together? I can't think how they can control it properly." Analysts say a complete shutdown is not likely, as this could lead to a wave of anger from users. For student Liu Zicheng, microblogging is now very much a way of life (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) 20-YEAR-OLD STUDENT LIU ZICHENG SAYING: "If I didn't have my microblog then I would feel like I was losing a habitual part of my life, like putting on socks every day before you step out the door. I would feel lost. If my phone isn't on me and I can't refresh my microblog then I feel like I'm several days behind society." Pioneering blogger and microblog analyst Wang Junxiu (pron: wang joon-seeoh), says China's microblogs are already changing the country's political landscape. (SOUNDBITE) (Mandarin) PIONEER BLOGGER AND MICROBLOG ANALYST WANG JUNXIU SAYING: "Look at the Wenzhou high-speed rail crash, for example. Everyone - witnesses, lawyers, scholars, media and even officials - gets stirred into the mix and gives their opinion on the subject, and they all keep on working to dig up the truth. Some on site, others not. Together it all becomes a kind of flow, a social movement. This movement can be seen as 'microblog politics,' and it's happening already." After the train crash in July, many took to microblogs to vent their anger over what they saw as officials' incompetence, and attempts to cover up facts, when authorities ordered a muzzle on state-run media. Several top officials from the Ministry of Railways were later fired. Wang says censors are already interfering more with microblogs, stopping some messages, and delaying others. Analysts say time delays and demanding users register with their real names are possible ways of exerting more control. Popular foreign sites such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are already blocked by China's "Great Firewall," and domestic microblogging sites are watched closely by censors, who delete entries deemed sensitive. Arnold Gay Reuters.