Why Chinese People Are Getting Sick of Chinese Social Media

Netizens in the People's Republic are becoming increasingly cynical about the country's constantly-censored microblogging platform.

Weibo banner.jpg
Reuters

Sina Weibo, China's most active and influential micro-blogging platform, has long been heralded as a revolution in the way Chinese interact with the state and with each other. But on the eve of a power transition taking place behind closed doors, many online are beginning to question what permanent change Chinese social media has truly wrought.

To be fair, there is no shortage of discrete examples of Weibo's power. Some of the most significant events of President Hu Jintao's second five-year tenure trace their genesis not to the Communist Party, but to the microblogging platform. It has been instrumental in revealing abuses of power and breaking scandals which would have otherwise been hushed up or airbrushed in China's mainstream media. Weibo has also had an undeniable impact on decisions taken at the local level; just this year, governments in the cities of Shifang, Ningbo and Qidong all backed off from development plans after environmental protests broke out among smartphone-brandishing citizens.

The Democracy ReportWhile Weibo can on occasion help incite real change, even on the streets, the sheer number of injustices that flash almost daily across Chinese Web users' respective feeds means that citizens, armed with social media alone, simply do not have the power to combat even a small portion of them. As a result, some measure of ennui and resignation has begun to set in. In late October, online personality Zuoye Ben (@作业本), a pseudonymous Weibo user known for original and often critical views, gave voice to a growing feeling of fatigue among social media users. In a post commemorating three years of using the Weibo service, Zuoye Ben concluded that "Weibo has not changed China, it has just changed you and me: I have gradually got used to being cold and indifferent, just like you have slowly got tired of Weibo." These words have been re-posted over [30,000] times and have garnered over [10,000] comments.

Zuoye Ben continued: "When I see houses that have been forcibly demolished, normal people mysteriously disappearing, tragic car accidents, people on their knees, all sorts of projects made of tofu [slang for construction using shoddy materials]... I'm not really that angry any more. Instead I have a feeling like when you watch TV shows and see the same things happening over and over again. In the end I know that the only thing I'm left with is numbness. In the past I'd get so angry. I'd be cursing the fact that such shocking things could happen in China [...] now after three years I find that nothing shocks me anymore."

Many of the users who read Zuoye Ben's lament responded with similar sentiments. Among the [10,000] plus comments posted in response, @季末's is representative: "Weibo hasn't changed anything; it just lets you find out about even more unfortunate and unfair things that are happening all the time. I know you [Weibo users] are gradually ceasing to be surprised by anything." User @天上小云 added: "I reckon I don't need three years to end up feeling the same as [Zuoye Ben]! These days my attitude to Weibo is like "chicken ribs" -- flavorless, but a pity to waste."

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Natalie Thomas is a multimedia producer in Beijing. She is a contributor to Tea Leaf Nation.

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