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China Internet Supervision - Weibo Censorship

Weibo, one of China's largest SNS platforms, announced on June 10, that it was shutting down its “hot search” and “hot topic” lists under orders from the nation’s internet regulator. That’s a blow to the platform’s business, as Weibo’s rankings are important for brands, celebrities, and KOL seeking to measure the impact of the marketing campaigns they’re involved with, and it comes in the midst of the major 618 Shopping Festival.

The shutdown will run for a week, as required by the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), which posted on its official WeChat account that Weibo had interfered with communications orders and distributed illegal information, among other issues. CAC mentioned a case involving Tmall and Taobao president Jiang Fan, a possible reference to a scandal that unfolded on Weibo when the wife of Jiang Fan, who was president of Alibaba’s Taobao and Tmall divisions, published a post telling top KOL Zhang Dayi to stay away from her husband, drawing speculation of an affair between Zhang and Jiang (he was demoted soon after). The post comments were turned off on Mrs. Jiang’s Weibo account, and the juicy gossip she spilled did not make it to the list of top searches and hot topics.

Alibaba is Weibo’s second-largest shareholder, with a 30% stake. Obviously, Weibo is manipulating public opinion behind the scenes to cover up the scandal. It also reflects that online information is easy to be manipulated by the promotion platform. Such behaviour also makes the brand passive when judging whether the information is true, accurate, and fair. It’s not the first time

Weibo’s hotlists have been targeted. In early 2018, they were also suspended for a week amid allegations of obscene content and other illegal activities.

In March 2020, Weibo MAU reached 550 million, average DAU reached 241 million. Weibo has become one of the important channels for the public to get information in the era of mobile Internet, and the hot search list has also become the main platform for netizens to discover social hot content and participate in discussions.

The original intention of the hot search list is to reflect the attention and direction of Weibo users on hot content, but, many hot searches, such as with the word "recommended", are all priced commercials. A media survey found that many merchants operating the "Weibo marketing" business said that they can let the specified vocabulary appear in the designated position of the hot search list as long as they pay a certain fee. For the brand marketing team, it is recommended to reduce such operations, but to change the marketing thinking, and follow the legal and formal marketing method to promote brand image, to avoid falling into the same PR dilemma.

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