Microblogs gaining political weight in China

A Global Times survey shows that 71 percent of Chinese Web users attribute their growing interest in politics to microblogging, but more than half of them complained about the lack of interaction on government blogs.

The poll was conducted by the Global Poll Center under the newspaper from March 25 to April 5. It surveyed 1,285 people, including some living in Hong Kong and Taiwan, either online or by phone.

Among the respondents, 59.3 percent said they have become more inclined to express their political views on microblogs. In terms of their favorite topics, 36.6 percent of them cited social news, followed by 23.1 percent choosing politics and 19.6 percent going for daily-life topics, such as fashion and heath.

The poll also found that male bloggers voice their political opinions more often than their female counterparts, and in terms of age, middle-aged Web users were most active on political topics.

Microblogging flourished in China in 2010, as President Hu Jintao registered his own microblog in February that year and gained more than 8,000 followers hours after opening.

After that, more and more politicians and government organs began accepting and using the new media.

According to sina.com.cn, a major microblogging provider in China, there are more than 1,300 government blogs on its servers, among which 692 are for public security services, 216 are operated by government bodies and 426 belong to individual politicians.

During the annual national parliamentary sessions last month, officials and journalists were encouraged to use microblogs to quickly disclose information on the gatherings.

Although 72.1 percent of those polled backed the idea of politicians opening microblogs, 65.6 percent of the voters complained that most current government blogs are merely publicity stunts without timely responses to inquiries.

Liu Xiaoying, a professor specializing in international communications at the Communications University of China, urged officials to keep an eye on their blogs, saying that new media could become a force to be reckoned with.

“If politicians fail to address netizens’ concerns in a timely manner on their blogs, they may lose public trust and may provide fuel for false rumors that could mislead the people,” Liu told the Global Times, adding that relevant departments should also enhance regulations on microblogging.

Shan Guangnai, a researcher of public affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told People’s Daily that government officials need to avoid using diplomatic terms on microblogs.

“Compared with the setup of hotlines for mayors and provincial governors in the 1980s, using microblogging is a major step forward for Chinese politicians,” Shan said.

“However, a blog is for the entire public, not like one phone for one caller. It is an equal platform for everyone – sometimes a bit grassroots. Our government leaders need to adapt to new media quickly,” he added.

Chen Changfeng, director of the Center for Journalism Studies at Tsinghua University, told People’s Daily that government blogs have huge potential in terms of quantity and coverage.

“Compared with the number of government bodies, the current number of blogs is too small. Furthermore, most of our blogs are in Chinese and are for mainland users. This doesn’t fit the new media’s character of being boundless,” Chen said.

Meanwhile, microblogging has become a good friend of politicians around the world.

Both US President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev are active bloggers.

According to a report by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project released last month, more than half of American adults went online for political activism and to seek information during November’s interim election campaign, AFP reported.

Obama out-dueled Republicans online during his White House campaign, using the Internet for organizing, fundraising and communicating, but Republicans have caught up – and may even have surpassed the Democrats online.

However, there are also complaints from Web users that some politicians treat Twitter as a “one-way medium” instead of engaging in a conversation with constituents.

“You have the ability to answer and respond to questions in real time. That’s the way the smart people are using it,” Patrick Ruffini, a Republican political strategist and a blogger, told AFP.

Li Qian contributed to this story

Source: Global Times

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