Weibo ‘Points’: Reward and Punishment for China Social Media Users

Weibo, China’s equivalent to Twitter, the popular micro blogging application, has introduced a code of conduct which explicitly restricts the type of messages users can post online.

This is another way to moderate social interaction after authorities criticized rumors, described as “unfounded”, posted by certain users. According to reports gathered by the BBC and first reported by The Next Web, the new plan suggests a credit score system which initially sets 80 points that can increase by taking part in “promotional activities”, but are also deducted every wrong move breach of the code of conduct they make. Once a user’s points fall below 60, a warning would appear on their account. Accounts of repeat offenders, just like license of drivers who violate traffic rules repeatedly, may be cancelled. But if they “behaved” for two consecutive months, scores could restore their 80-point status.

It can be similar to typing queries on search engines using keywords deemed sensitive, which will yield different search results from outside of China or simulate server error messages.

From an original document translated by anonymous bilinguals,  a specific set of rules were outlined, such as Article 13:

Article 13) Users have the right to publish information, but may not publish any information that:

1. Opposes the basic principles established by the constitution
2. Harms the unity, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of the nation
3. Reveals national secrets, endangers national security, or threatens the the honor or interests of the nation
4. Incites ethnic hatred or ethnic discrimination, undermines ethnic unity, or harms ethnic traditions and customs
5. Promotes evil teachings and superstitions
6. Spreads rumors, disrupts social order, and destroys societal stability
7. Promotes illicit activity, gambling, violence, or calls for the committing of crimes
8. Calls for disruption of social order through illegal gatherings, formation of organizations, protests, demonstrations, mass gatherings and assemblies
9. Has other content which is forbidden by laws, administrative regulations and national regulations.

Article 14) Users may not publish untrue information. For information about what untrue information is, please see “Sina Weibo Community Management Regulations (Trial Phase).”

According to its parent company, Sina, Weibo has more than 300 million registered users so this proposed change brings significant impact in how people utilize them. For example, if they wish to express anger after a Ferrari damaged an ancient Chinese landmark, or pressure the government to prosecute an ex-official accused of raping several girls, would these message treated as voice of the people or rumormongering?

I wonder how effective this measure would be. And by “effective” I mean, how hard is it for certain users to get around this rule. It’s possible that people could reinvent terms or deliver messages in codes to bypass censors.