China’s Social-Media Users Head to Under-the-Radar Platforms | Tech News Briefing Podcast | WSJ

China’s Social-Media Users Head to Under-the-Radar Platforms | Tech News Briefing Podcast | WSJ

To avoid harassment and greater oversight on social-media platforms, some users in China are leaving the country’s dominant sites for under-the-radar options. WSJ China technology reporter Shen Lu joins host Zoe Thomas to discuss what led them to this point and where they are moving.

[Music]
this is your tech news briefing for
monday august 8th i’m zoe thomas for the
wall street journal
social media is the place people go to
express their feelings connect with
friends and exchange ideas with
strangers
but when your posts are monitored by
authorities or censored it can be hard
to be open and can even present a risk
to your safety
that’s the situation some people in
china are finding themselves in as new
rules take effect on social media
platforms there and some are choosing to
leave platforms where they don’t feel
safe and trying to rebuild their cyber
lives on other sites
joining us to discuss this is our china
tech reporter shen liu hi shanlou thanks
for joining me hi thanks for having me
so can you start by painting a picture
of what the social media landscape in
china is like right now and and how it’s
changed
it’s still vibrant but the main town
square like social media platform weibo
which is uh better known in the west
than other social media platforms is
saturated with nationalistic voices and
official narratives because of a step up
in censorship over the past few years
and it’s very different from say 10
years ago when weibo became a phenomenon
in china and in the world even people
thought that china was moving toward a
more democratic society because people
had this social media platform and were
able to voice their opinions and were
able to have lively debates but then
that changed maybe about five eight
years ago platforms like weibo have
stepped up uh censorship and people feel
like the space for free speech has been
shrinking over the past few years
i want to talk about why this shift in
chinese social media landscape is taking
place
what’s behind the new rules and
restrictions are they coming from the
government or are these platforms
self-regulating
so
at the end of june china’s cyberspace
watchdog
came down with new rules that require
all the chinese social media platforms
to
display user ip locations
online and then require them to verify
users identities but this came two
months late after weibo and another town
square like uh social media platform
though ben announced the rules so we
don’t know if two months ago chinese
social media platforms decided to do it
themselves or
ahead of the new rules or they had
already
had an agreement with the chinese
cyberspace administration to
initiate the new requirements before the
rules actually got passed
have we heard from the government or
from either of these major platforms
about what’s going on
no neither the chinese government nor
the companies responded to our requests
for comment
okay so that’s the situation with the
companies i want to talk a bit about the
individuals who are using these
platforms and what it’s been like for
them
what would cause them to switch to
another social media platform you know
of the people you spoke to what did they
tell you about their experience on these
platforms
yeah so it’s not just a one-off deletion
of
a post or a deletion of an account it’s
you know many of them have experienced
series of account deletions over the
past few years and not
letting alone posts so increasingly they
find that on their timeline their
neighbors and their friends started to
talk less and less or stopped talking
because of the invasive censorship
so it’s not fun to stay on those
platforms anymore if your friends and
you yourself are afraid of speaking out
or just annoyed that the fact that
whatever you say might trigger
censorship sometimes it’s casual banter
talk it’s not even like touching
anything political so that’s the main
reason why they would switch to a forum
platform but the latest rules that
display users ip locations and require
them to
verify their identity seem to be a last
straw for some of the people that i
talked to for the story
and it’s not easy for them to abandon
their online you know homeland and
online identity that they have you know
built and maintained for the past 10
years so for many people it’s kind of
traumatic that they can’t stay on that
platform anymore and then the platform
is not the same way board our same dope
and that inspired them to participate in
public engagement 10 years ago so you
found that a lot of people are switching
over to mastodon for those of us who are
not familiar with mastodon can you tell
us a little bit about what it’s like and
how many chinese users are switching
over to it
so it’s a social network and it has
similar features to twitter where it’s a
micro blogging
network so anyone using mastodon’s open
source software could build their own
network they just need to buy uh server
storage so
many people have started their own
social networks on mastodon placing
their servers outside of china
and overall this place hosts about 150
000 chinese speaking users
currently what does all of this tell us
about the chinese social media landscape
going forward
so
many of the chinese social media users
who move to mastodon think that
the censorship is only going to be
rising in the future and the erosion of
free speech is only going to continue on
chinese social media and then they
a lot of who have moved to maastron
think that it’s not fun to be on those
mainstream chinese social media anymore
there’s a lot of harassment going on and
nationalism is on steroids
and they just want a place to simply to
speak freely not just about you know
political issues but also to express
themselves and to you know exchange
ideas and share their hobbies with
friends without having to worry being
censored or harassed
i’m curious if we’ll see any more
crackdowns or more restrictions from the
government though or if you know the
government will look at this shift and
maybe say
we need to do something about mastodon
as well
uh so they’re already doing that some of
the popular mastodon networks where
chinese internet users speak
china has already
blocked those sites
and you know some of the less known sort
of
under the radar
social networks before also got blocked
in june when chinese sensors found
people started to move into those places
so
it’s a sign that mastodon is already on
the radar of chinese sensors
all right that’s our reporter shen liu
thanks so much for joining us thanks zoe
for having me
and that’s it for today’s tech news
briefing if you want more tech stories
check out our website wsj.com
and if you like our show please rate and
review it you can do that wherever you
get your podcasts i’m zoe thomas for the
wall street journal
thanks for listening
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