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As our website is blocked in mainland China, CLB is now using microblogs to reach our mainland audience and let them know what CLB is doing. Since we started this initiative in November, we have received a warm response from both ordinary citizens and mainstream journalists in China. Although it’s encouraging to note that CLB’s Chinese microblog has over 3,000 followers, the outlook for this new internet sensation is actually not as promising as it seems.
The year 2010 has been named Chinese Microblogging Year One. Chinese netizens (reaching over 450 million according to official statistics) are embracing microblogging with great passion, and even with firm belief. Sina, China’s first internet portal to launch a microblogging application, announced at the end of 2010 that it had over 50 million users. Meanwhile, other mainland internet portals, such as Tencent and Netease, and popular Chinese forums, like Tianya and Baidu, have launched their microblogging platforms subsequently. A report by Shanghai Jiaotong University estimated that by October 2010, the number of Chinese microbloggers already exceeded 125million.
A popular slogan on Chinese internet is “围观就是力量” (circusee is power), which literally means on-lookers can make a difference too. Unlike blogs, microblogs have a low threshold and enable every netizen to play the role of event disseminator by simply commenting on or retweeting popular posts. In this sense, netizens get a sense of self-achievement not only because they help spread the information, but help the information garner more attention and become more colourful when more and more people are involved.
In 2010, we indeed experienced several events that wouldn’t have had so much public attention if they didn’t first create a storm in the microblogosphere. These events include “My Father is Li Gang” and the mysterious death of Qian Yunhui. However, after intense public attention and even the mainstream media’s vigorous coverage, there was no substantial social or judicial impact.
Liang Wendao, a Hong Kong-based media critic, doubted if microblogs can really play the role they are expected to. He says many commentators lauded the rise of microblogging in China and held that microblogging, as a form of information and public opinion, will help reveal the truth of a story, trigger public activism, and hence usher in a wave of change. They even claimed that “circusee changes China”. But so long as the authorities remain determined to ignore this kind of social force and turn a cold shoulder to the public’s needs and demands, microblogging, like all other public opinion outlets, will have no substantial role to play.