The ProPublica headline and story says it all:
Weibo, “China’s Twitter,” started offering shares on NASDAQ yesterday. Its regulatory disclosures reveal a company’s balancing act between censoring too much and too little.
As required under SEC regulations, the company must list for investors potential risks that might affect its share price. Weibo is up front about the risk the Chinese government’s regulation of content poses to its ability so succeed. “Failure to [censor] may subject us to liabilities and penalties and may even result in the temporary blockage or complete shutdown of our online operations.”
Under a section titled “Risks Relating to Doing Business in China,” the company cites as a material risk not being able to censor user content quickly enough for the Chinese government, and describes a three-day period in March 2012 when Weibo disabled commenting completely so censors could “clean up” all content regarding a topic. The company did not disclose the topic but the Wall Street Journal reported in March 2012 that China put temporary restrictions on Sina, Weibo’s parent company, as well as Tencent, a rival microblogging service, and that it was “detaining individuals that it accused of spreading rumors of a coup attempt in Beijing.” That week, according to the Journal story, Sina and Tencent placed identical notices on their web sites, warning users that the ability to comment on posts was being shut down for three days.
And that does not even take into account the amount of money wasted dealing with rumors because no one trusts the state-run media to fairly report news.
Social media sites offer a chance for people to swap stories, but like the game of “Telephone,” what starts out at the beginning is not necessarily what comes out at the end. If the Chinese government were really serious about preventing social unrest, it would drop its censorship and let reporters freely and accurately report what is going on. It would also stop blocking open discussions among the people in China.
But then again, that might destabilize the iron grip the Communist party has on everything. They would have to give up power. And that — to them — is too destabilizing and dangerous.