Hearts Turn to Rainbows in Quake's Wake

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Internet users in China have begun expressing solidarity with the victims of Monday's earthquake via their instant messaging (IM) software.

MSN China began asking users Tuesday to show their concern by putting rainbows, created with a (R) symbol, before their MSN handles. Called the "Rainbow Petition," the action is not seeking a given number of users, but instead wants to remind people of the earthquake's victims and their plight, and encourage them to donate money or supplies to relief efforts.

The petition follows a recent outpouring of online sentiment in the wake of protests against the Olympic torch relay overseas, specifically in France. In mid-April, MSN users in China began adding a (L) heart symbol to their handles, some adding "(L) China," or "Love China" as an expression of patriotism. MSN China, which did not organize the "Love China" movement, estimated that 2.3 million users had added some variation of the heart symbol to their handles.

The Rainbow Petition did not seem to be generating the same kind of immediate uptake as its more nationalist predecessor. One MSN user in Beijing, who asked to be identified only by her English name, Sherry, said that she would not be adopting the new symbol. "I am not going to do that. No one asked me to do that," she said, adding that for now, she would continue using the heart.

"I don't think it's a redirection of nationalist sentiment," said Jeremy Goldkorn, editor of Danwei.org a Beijing-based blog that covers China's media. "I think the very real tragedy of the earthquake would have caused such outpourings, no matter what happened in the last few months."

The phenomenon is limited only to MSN Messenger users. Far from China's most popular messaging software, MSN use trails Tencent's QQ, which claimed 783.4 million registered IM user accounts in its first quarter results for 2008 -- more than three accounts per Internet user in China -- does not support the adding of symbols to handles in the same way.

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