Weibo bans gay content?

Chinese alternative to Twitter bans gay content, fans respond '#IAmGay'

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Could Twitter learn a thing or two from Weibo?

By Diane Cooke

Weibo is a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook and is used by more than 30 per cent of Chinese internet users as Twitter is blocked by China’s Great Firewall.

Weibo (pronounce as way-bo), also known as Sina Weibo, and Twitter have a lot in common, both are microblogging platforms that have revolutionised social networks – Twitter worldwide and Weibo in China. They allow their users to connect to their networks through concise messages that are limited to 140 characters.

Launched in 2009, Weibo has now developed into a comprehensive platform that incorporates the major features of social media channels like Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.

The year that Weibo was launched was a pivotal year for China in terms of micro-blogging. Besides Twitter, domestic social media sites such as Zuosa, Fanfou and Taotao were rapidly gaining popularity. Following the Urumqi riots in 2009, Chinese authorities blamed the free flow of information for the surge of social unrest and put a stop to Twitter, Facebook and many local microblogs. Sina Weibo was introduced as a new social media platform that would keep the stream of incoming posts under control by tracking and blocking ‘sensitive’ content.

Research shows that there are differences between how Weibo is used in China and Twitter is used in other countries. Not only do users of Sina Weibo publish more posts than those on Twitter, they also disclose more personal information. They are also more active in reacting to other people and sharing their views.

While topics discussed on Twitter are often linked to institutions and companies, users of Sina avoid talking about (political) organisations or other institutions. The idea that Weibo is used in a more ‘personal’ way is supported by the fact that Sina Weibo users publish 19% more posts during the weekends. This is in contrast to Twitter, where people post 11% less tweets on weekends than they do on weekdays.

In 2013, this social media platform was extremely successful reaching 600 million users. One of the major causes of this expansion is the fact that Weibo decided to produce various mobile applications for several platforms: iPhone/iPad, Android, Windows Phone, Symbian, BlackBerry OS, Weibo Desktop and some other mobile platforms.

Last year, Forbes wrote that Twitter could learn a thing or two from Weibo. While the U.S. company struggles to grow its user base, which has hovered around 300 million over the past few years, Weibo is thriving.

While both platforms share similar features, such as a 140-character limit on messages, the Beijing-based service has overtaken Twitter in both market influence and user numbers. Weibo, which reported a 30% rise in monthly active users to 340 million in the first quarter of 2017, now has a market capitalization of $16.4 billion. Twitter, which is actually banned in China, has 328 million monthly active users and a $13.5 billion market capitalisation.

Advertisers are also flocking to Weibo. With 80% of its total revenue coming from online advertisements, the company reported a 67% rise in total income to $199 million in the last quarter, according to its latest financial results. In contrast to Twitter’s $62 million loss in the first quarter, it is profitable – Weibo’s net income increased by a whopping 561% to $47 million over the same period.

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