WeChat, a text messaging service from Tencent, has begun to set its sights beyond China. (Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters)
One of the ways to think about China's Internet is as a Bizarro version of the World Wide Web. Facebook and Twitter are banned, but social networking sites like Sina Weibo and Kaixinwang operate freely. Instead of YouTube, there is Youku Tudou. And while Google does operate in China -- albeit intermittently -- the Chinese company Baidu dominates the search engine market. A foreign observer of the Chinese internet might conclude, to paraphrase Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction: "They've got the same stuff there that we do here, it's just ... a little bit different."
This so-called "Chinese intranet" though is a relatively new phenomenon; Facebook and Twitter only became firewalled following the Iranian protests of 2009, the same year that Sina launched its Twitter-like Weibo service. And while censorship is a major reason why Western social media services remain behind the Great Firewall, it isn't an accident that their absence has allowed domestic competitors to grow.
Of all the Chinese social media products to join the market in the last few years, none has had as great an effect as Sina's Weibo. Presenting a (relatively) unfettered space for speech, Weibo has intrigued foreign observers with its irreverent discussions of sensitive issues. In just four years, the site has attracted over 500 million members, more than the population of all but two countries in the world.
For all its success, though, Weibo has confined itself to China; Until this year, when Sina introduced an English-language version and allowed users to login via Facebook, Weibo made virtually no effort to expand to foreign market and focused instead on recruiting users from within China. Given the country's large population -- and still-modest level of internet penetration -- this strategy makes sense; there are still plenty of people in China who don't use Weibo.
On the other hand, new research suggests that Sina may have to re-think its strategy: Weibo seems to have peaked in popularity. A recent survey by the tracking service WeiboReach released this month revealed that user activity has dropped by more than 30 percent from its peak last October. Part of this decline is due to government policy -- Beijing has passed laws demanding real name registration on Weibo, deterring would-be users who valued the service's privacy. But another issue is the rise of a rival service, Tencent's WeChat, which first launched in late 2011.
Similar to the text messaging service WhatsApp -- with elements of Instagram and Skype tossed in -- WeChat has accumulated over 300 million users in its first two years by embracing an entirely different strategy from Weibo: going after the international market head on. Unlike Weibo, which released an English-language web version only this year, WeChat is available in 18 languages and has already produced a Spanish-language advertisement featuring the Argentinian soccer star Lionel Messi. Tencent is planning to establish an office in the United States and has already recruited Nike and Starbucks, among other major brands, to interact with customers on the service. While few outside of China use Sina Weibo, WeChat already has 70 million non-Chinese users -- almost a fourth of its overall total.
Despite its drop in user activity, it's too early to dismiss Weibo. As Beijing-based media consultant Jeremy Goldkorn told me, Weibo is "still massive, very popular, and still the most active and powerful platform for public expression in China today." It's worth noting, too, that Weibo and WeChat aren't necessarily competitors -- the two services have different functions, and given their huge subscriber bases within China, many people must use both. But it's hard to escape the sense that WeChat has, as Goldkorn says, "taken the wind out of Weibo's sails."
In the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately world of social media, WeChat has a long way to go before it can supplant Weibo's reputation as China's "it' service. But by focusing on the international market, WeChat has upended the industry and also challenged the stereotype that Chinese brands cannot compete abroad. It doesn't want to just be the hot new Chinese Internet fad -- it wants to be the hot new Internet fad that happens to be Chinese.
Whether or not WeChat succeeds remain to be seen. But the early returns are promising. Speaking to Network World, tech consultant Duncan Clark had this to say about it:
"If you didn't know WeChat was from China, you wouldn't be aware of that fact. It has transcended its Chinese-ness."
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
William Jennings Bryan, the populist presidential hopeful, warned of an “epidemic of fake news” in his day.
Fake news is everywhere. The power of the press is said to be waning. And because the nation’s most famous populist—the man with his sights on the presidency—can’t trust the lying media, he says, he has no option but to be a publisher himself.
Oh yeah, and the year is 1896.
The would-be president in question is William Jennings Bryan. In an era before the internet, television, or radio, the best way to reach the masses is with newsprint. So, without the option of tweeting his grievances after losing the election to William McKinley, what does Bryan do? He starts his own newspaper. And he uses it to rail against “fake news.”
I don’t need to tell you a lot of this sounds weirdly familiar.
“There seems to be an epidemic of fake news from the city of Lincoln, [Nebraska], and it all comes from Mr. Bryan’s ‘friends’—names not given,” Bryan’s newspaper, The Commoner,wrote in 1907. “It would seem unnecessary to deny reports sent out to which no name was attached, and yet it has been necessary to send a number of telegrams to notify other papers that the report was unauthorized … As Mr. Bryan has a paper—The Commoner—through which he speaks every week, and as he is speaking often and giving out interviews frequently, a newspaper ought to view with suspicion any report sent out from Lincoln or anywhere else purporting to state what Mr. Bryan thinks or intends to do.” (In this case, the issue at hand was Bryan’s stance against a third term for Teddy Roosevelt, which some papers had apparently questioned.)
Curfews, sports, and understanding kids’ brain chemistry have all helped dramatically curb substance abuse in the country.
It’s a little before 3 p.m. on a sunny Friday afternoon and Laugardalur Park, near central Reykjavik, looks practically deserted. There’s an occasional adult with a stroller, but the park’s surrounded by apartment blocks and houses, and school’s out—so where are all the kids?
Walking with me are Gudberg Jónsson, a local psychologist, and Harvey Milkman, an American psychology professor who teaches for part of the year at Reykjavik University. Twenty years ago, says Gudberg, Icelandic teens were among the heaviest-drinking youths in Europe. “You couldn’t walk the streets in downtown Reykjavik on a Friday night because it felt unsafe,” adds Milkman. “There were hordes of teenagers getting in-your-face drunk.”
In the age of the digital hermit, a psychologist explains what it means to avoid other people—and what to do about it.
People today might not actually be avoiding social interaction any more than they did in past decades, but they’re certainly more vocal about it. The rise of digital communication seems to be spawning a nation of indoor cats, all humble-bragging about how introverted they are and ordering their rides and groceries without ever talking to a human.
Sometimes reclusiveness can be a sign of something more serious, though. Social anxiety is one of the most common mental illnesses, but it’s still poorly understood outside of scientific circles. The good news is that it’s highly treatable, according to Stefan G. Hofmann, the director of the Social Anxiety Program at Boston University.
I recently talked with Hofmann about how social anxiety works and what people who feel socially anxious can do about it. An edited transcript of our conversation follows.
More clues that the Facebook founder is eyeing a run for office
There’s a long-running theory that Mark Zuckerberg has presidential aspirations. It makes sense to wonder. After all, if the civically engaged and ambitious billionaire leader of the most powerful media company on the planet wanted to take on a new challenge, why not try running a country? It’s not like he has many other opportunities for a promotion.
But only in recent weeks has a Zuckerberg run for the American presidency started to seem like a legitimate possibility. First there was his personal challenge for 2017: Zuckerberg’s aiming to visit and meet with people in all 50 states by the end of the year.
And not just that, but he framed the exercise in a way that sounds, well, political: “Going into this challenge, it seems we are at a turning point in history,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “For decades, technology and globalization have made us more productive and connected. This has created many benefits, but for a lot of people it has also made life more challenging. This has contributed to a greater sense of division than I have felt in my lifetime. We need to find a way to change the game so it works for everyone.”
How the vice president spent a few of his closing days in office
When I boarded Air Force Two for Vice President Joe Biden’s final overseas mission, he had four days left in office. His leverage was diminishing by the hour, with every new question at a Trump nominee confirmation hearing, with every new @RealDonaldTrump tweet.
There was no chance of a miracle at that point, a few days away from Vice President-elect Mike Pence getting Biden’s keys to Air Force Two—to somehow rid Ukraine of its debilitating corruption, pull off a Cyprus deal, or stand between Kosovo and Serbia and neutralize the tension between them for good. It’s hard to shame Russian President Vladimir Putin or to inspire him to spiff up his behavior if the president-elect seems to accept Putin just as he is. And of course, there’s Iraq.
Unlike past presidents-elect, Donald Trump hasn’t expanded his support since the election. His belligerent attitude toward his critics may be one reason why.
Donald Trump always seems most grounded in chaos. He thrives on contradicting his aides, surprising his allies, disparaging his opponents. He revels in the tempest.
This combustible approach has touched a chord with his base of primarily non-college-educated and non-urban white voters who have felt eclipsed both economically and culturally and slighted by the nation’s leadership. But he will arrive at his inaugural Friday facing more resistance in public opinion than any newly elected president in the history of polling, and with lingering clouds over his legitimacy—symbolized by the surprisingly widespread House Democratic boycott of the ceremony. Trump’s agenda is polarizing enough, but the intensity of that opposition appears rooted even more in his relentless belligerence toward any critical voice or institution.
The president-elect filled out his Cabinet on Thursday by nominating former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue for agriculture secretary.
Updated on January 19, 2017
A day before his inauguration, President-elect Donald Trump has filled out his Cabinet.
Trump on Thursday morning announced the nomination of former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue as secretary of agriculture, completing a search that took the duration of his presidential transition.
Perdue, who served as governor from 2003 to 2011, grew up on a farm in Georgia and earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine. “Sonny Perdue is going to accomplish great things as Secretary of Agriculture,” Trump said in a statement. “From growing up on a farm to being governor of a big agriculture state, he has spent his whole life understanding and solving the challenges our farmers face, and he is going to deliver big results for all Americans who earn their living off the land.”
Without any of his key appointees confirmed by the Senate, the incoming president has turned to existing officials to help smooth the transition.
Donald Rumsfeld is not joining the Trump administration, but one of his most famous rules is: “You go to war with the Army you have—not the Army you might wish you have.” Or the secretary of the Army, as the case might be.
With the process of vetting and appointing, to say nothing of confirming, executive-branch officials well behind the optimal pace, incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said during a briefing on Thursday that “over 50” members of the Obama administration will temporarily remain in their posts to help smooth the transition to the Trump administration.
Spicer did not name all of the officials, nor did he indicate whether others had been asked and declined to stay on. A message to the Trump transition team, asking for a full list, has not been answered. Reuters reported Thursday afternoon that some individuals on a list, dated Tuesday, of appointees being asked to stay on had declined to do so, including the principal deputy director of national intelligence, an undersecretary of state, and an assistant secretary of state.