We have always had our own opinions, and now it’s easier than ever to voice them. Here in the UK, social networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram give us the opportunity to get our voice heard and share our thoughts with followers and friends. However, these sites are not welcome in all countries. In China they have been blocked because the government doesn’t like the lack of control over the content that is posted. But with 600 million citizens on the internet, the government has had to provide alternative social media platforms. Weibo is one such service, and works in a similar way to Twitter. The crucial difference is every one of the 100 million messages sent daily is monitored for controversial content and will either be censored or deleted in real time - a huge task.

Yao Chen, a famous Chinese actress and goodwill ambassador of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been named the “Queen of Weibo”. With over 68 million followers, she has been recognised for her powerful influence and wide reach by speaking to her fans about topics ranging from pollution to censorship.

Chen has brought a new understanding of these issues to the Chinese-speaking world by sharing her experiences and voicing her opinions, in particular spreading awareness of issues with refugees. By communicating in a way that captures our imaginations and moves us in a way that logic can’t through personal stories, Chen captivates her fans and builds emotion with them. However, she has to be careful that her messages are not too controversial, or she will risk them being deleted by the government.

If any good has come out of China’s Weibo experiment, it’s the demonstration of social media’s popularity even when users can’t say exactly what they want to. Chen has tested these limits but the debate rages on over how much of a difference she can make, and whether a state-controlled social network is really worth having at all.

Comment