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Why was Weibo eclipsed by WeChat

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For the past few years, social media in China has been dominated by the Twitter-like Sina Weibo, a microblogging service that created an online sphere of freewheeling public debate, incubating social change and at times even holding politicians accountable in a country where traditional media outlets are severely constrained.

在过去几年里,中国的社交媒体一直被新浪微博(类似推特)主导,新浪微博为公众自由言论提供了一片网络空间,促成了一些社会变革,甚至对官员的行为进行监督,而在中国,传统的媒体都被严重的束缚。

 

But now, Weibo has been eclipsed by the Facebook-like WeChat, which allows instant messaging within self-selected circles of followers.

而现在,微博则被微信(类似 Facebook)掩盖了锋芒,微信上可以和自己选择的交际圈进行即时聊天。

 

The shift from public to semiprivate communication, accelerated by a government crackdown on Weibo, has fundamentally reordered the social media landscape for the country’s 600 million Internet users, curbing what had been modern China’s most open public forum.

在政府对微博的打压中加速了这种由公共至半私人式交流的转变。这从根本上重绘了中国6亿网民的社交媒体前景,抑制了现代中国最开放的公众论坛。

 

“This is a new phase for social media in China,” said Hu Yong, a journalism professor at Peking University. “It is the decline of the first large-scale forum for information in China and the rise of something more narrowly focused.”

“这是中国社交媒体的新阶段,”北京大学新闻学教授胡勇(音)说。“这是中国首个大规模信息论坛的衰退,及目光更专注的事物的崛起。”

 

Li Bo uses WeChat to rally opposition to damaging infrastructure projects. A chat account QR code is reflected in his glasses.
李波用微信号召大家反对那些破坏性的基建工程。他的眼镜上反射的是一个微信账号二维码。

 

WeChat has its advantages and its defenders. It is less censored than Weibo, and some users say it allows them to speak more freely, knowing that their conversations are private. Many users relish its added functions, including voice messaging.

微信也有它的优点和拥护者。它不像微博的审查那么多,一些用户说微信上的对话更隐私,所以说话更自由。很多用户喜爱它的附加功能,包括语音信息。

 

Last year in May, though, the government announced that WeChat would be more heavily monitored. Saying that instant messaging services were being used to spread “violence, terrorism and pornography,” the agency charged with policing the Internet said it would “firmly fight infiltration from hostile forces at home and abroad,” according to a government statement.

不过在去年五月,政府宣布微信将被更受到更多监视,称即时通讯工具被用来传播“暴力、恐怖及色情”。负责监管的部门说将“坚定抗击境内外敌对势力的渗透,”一份政府声明中说。

 

In its heyday, Weibo promised much more. It came to prominence in 2011 after a high-speed rail crash killed 40 people. Weibo users detailed the mayhem and government shortcomings that led to the accident. It was a signal moment in the Internet’s coming of age in China, a reminder of how the medium could challenge even a formidable authoritarian government.

在全盛期,微博的前途看上去很光明。在2011年一场致死40人的高铁事故中,微博发挥了重要作用。微博用户详述了事故的细节及政府的不足处导致了此事故的发生。那是中国互联网的成熟期到来的信号,提醒人们媒体甚至可以挑战一个强大的专制政府。

 

Weibo is still important. Boundary-pushing news and commentaries are still more easily found there than in the more tightly controlled world of government newspapers and magazines. It also remains popular for following celebrities and gossip. It reported in March that it had 66 million daily users, up 37 percent over a year earlier.

微博仍很重要。比起严密控制的政府报刊,微博上更易出现突破性的新闻和评论。对于追星和传闻,微博也很盛行。据报道,3月份它的日常用户为6600万,比一年前上升37%。

 

But government figures show that the overall number of microblog users, including those using Weibo and services from other providers, fell by 9 percent last year, with many migrating to WeChat. That shift, along with a general decline in technology stocks, contributed to a disappointing New York stock market listing in April for Weibo, which raised $286 million instead of the anticipated $500 million.

但是政府的数据显示微博的总用户数(包含各服务商)比去年降低了9%,很多人转而使用微信。该转变,伴随着科技股的普遍下跌,一起致使“Weibo”4月在纽约证券市场令人失望的上市,本预期可以募集5亿美元,结果只募集了2.86亿。

 

“It’s far from what it used to be,” said He Weifang, a prominent lawyer and onetime heavy blogger on Weibo with more than a million followers. “You can still find facts on Weibo, or news reports, but the comments aren’t as interesting or deep.”

“现在比过去差远了,”著名律师及粉丝超过100万的热门博主贺卫方(音)说。“现在你仍可以在 Weibo 上发现事实,或者新闻报道,但是评论已不如以前有趣和有深度。”

 

One reason is the government crackdown on the so-called Big V accounts — prominent commenters, with verified accounts, who often had millions of followers. After hundreds were detained, most stopped posting on Weibo.

一个原因是政府对于“大V”账号(著名评论员的认证账号,常常有着数百万粉丝)的打击。在拘留了几百人之后,很多人停止在微博上活动。

 

Others quit because of the sharp tone of commentary on Weibo, which often devolved into nasty, ad hominem attacks. Some grew tired of the dizzying list of banned terms and the cat-and-mouse games with censors to evade them.

还有些人退出是因为微博上的评论太尖锐,常常演变为肮脏的人身攻击。还有些人厌倦了不断变化的禁用词语,以及躲避网络审查员的猫捉老鼠游戏。

 

WeChat seized on the frustration. Its parent company, Tencent, claims 355 million active monthly users. The company does not make public the number of daily users, making a direct comparison to Weibo difficult. But few people disagree that WeChat is now more popular.

微信抓住了这个挫折。它的母公司腾讯宣称其每月拥有3.55亿活动用户。该公司不公布每日的活动用户,因此难以同微博做直接比较。但是很少有人不同意微信更加流行。

 

More important, activists say, WeChat allows them to dig deeper into issues with like-minded people. The veteran environmentalist Li Bo has used WeChat for more than two years to rally opposition to damaging infrastructure projects, such as a controversial plan to dam the Nu River.

更重要的,活动人士称。微信允许人们和志趣相投的人更深层次的讨论问题。资深环保人士李波(音)已经使用微信超过2年了,他用微信号召大家反对那些破坏性的基建工程,比如怒江上建造大坝的争议计划。

 

Mr. Li is a participant in one WeChat group called Environmental Policy Advocacy that has more than 300 members, including, he said, open-minded government officials. Although officials rarely participate, they see the traffic and occasionally invite members to their offices to chat about policies.

李先生是微信上一个名为“环保政策宣传”群组的成员,该群现在有超过300名成员,其中还包括,他说,思想开放的政府官员。尽管官员很少参与聊天,但是他们能看到,偶尔也会邀请成员去他们的办公室讨论政策。

 

Some groups are smaller and narrower, such as one focused on a county in eastern China damaged by pollution. Others are task-specific, such as small committees for various campaigns and projects.

一些群则更小更专注,比如某群专注于东部某个被污染破坏的县城。还有一些则是专为某件事情建立的,比如为各种活动或者项目而建立的讨论组。

 

These groups can be powerful as long as they are not too overtly political. In late April, factory workers used WeChat to organize strikes against a Taiwanese company that had failed to pay into a retirement fund. Around the same time, however, churchgoers trying to use WeChat to prevent their church from being torn down found that their WeChat circles were being used to track down opponents of the government’s action.

这些群组可能很有能量,只有它不太过政治化。在4月末,工人们使用微信组织了一场针对台湾公司(未能支付退休金)的罢工。然而在相同时间,一些教徒想要用微信阻止他们的教堂被强拆,结果却发现他们的微信朋友圈反倒被用来追捕那些反对政府行为的人。

 

A broader problem for activists, however, is that WeChat can become an echo chamber.

然后,对于活动人士的一个更广泛的问题是,微信的传播能力有限。

 

When a charity for coal miners was trying to raise $500 this year to buy oxygen pumps for a miner dying of black lung disease, its initial appeal fell flat. On a hunch, an employee, Xue Yinhu, appealed to followers on WeChat and raised the money in an hour.

今年,当一个为得了黑肺病的病危煤矿工人募集500美元的慈善行动发起时,它的原始号召完全得不到响应。而一位名为薛银虎(音)的职员在微信上向他的粉丝们发起倡议时,仅一小时就筹到了钱。

 

 “These people know you better, so they’re more willing to support you,” he said. “But sometimes you’re talking only to the same people.”

“这些人更了解你,所以他们更愿意帮助你,”他说。“不过有时你的话只有他们能看见。”

 

WeChat also has built-in constraints that hobble its ability to replicate Weibo’s public sphere. WeChat allows the creation of public accounts that anyone can follow, but limits posts to one a day. In addition, access to public accounts is not possible on cellphones, making it more difficult, for instance, to launch an incriminating photo of a public official into the blogosphere.

微信还有着固有的缺陷,制约着它复制微博在公众领域的表现。微信允许创建任何人都能关注的公共账号,但是限制了每天发文的数量。另外,公共账号还不能在手机上登录,例如,这让它难以在博客圈上传某位官员犯罪的照片。

 

Comments are also deleted after a few days, making long-term discussions challenging and erasing a historical record. The government also monitors these accounts and recently deleted some covering social news and politics.

而且,评论过几天就会删除,这使得长期性讨论无法看到以前的历史。政府同样也监视这些账号,近期还删除了一些报道社会新闻和政治的。

 

Tencent declined to comment on how it decided which functions to offer users.

腾讯拒绝评论它是如何决定选择哪些功能给用户的。

 

Hu Jia, who has worked on environmental and public health causes for 15 years, said that the advent of social media, despite its limitations, had produced a better-informed society.

从事环境和公共卫生事业15年的胡佳(音)说,尽管有缺陷,但社交媒体的到来还是创造了一个更好的社会。

 

“Weibo and WeChat are gifts from God,” he said.

“微博和微信是来自上帝的礼物,”他说。

2016-06-22

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