One of China’s most popular Twitter-like services, Sina Weibo, said it needs better systems to stop harmful rumors on the site, but doesn’t intend to force its users to register with their real names.
“On an overall basis, it’s going to be difficult for China to implement a real-name system, because all this infrastructure is not ready,” said Charles Chao, CEO of Sina, the company behind the service.
Chao made the comments during a Wednesday earnings call as Chinese authorities have stepped up demands for a crackdown on online rumors circulating on sites like Sina Weibo, which now has more than 250 million registered users.
Since launching in 2009, Sina Weibo has risen to become a major forum for public opinion. China, however, strictly regulates the Internet, censoring anti-government or politically sensitive content. In recent months, authorities have begun targeting alleged rumors on Sina Weibo, going as far as detaining users who fabricated them, and shutting down their accounts.
“There is no question Weibo has become very essential in China,” Chao said, acknowledging that the site has become a tool for users to report news and share their views. Government agencies have also realized this and have started to open accounts on the site in order to communicate with the public, he added.
Rumors have however been spread on the site, and have attacked people and businesses, Chao said. “There will be a need for a better management system of the Weibo platform,” he said.
While Chao did not refer to any specific rumors, analysts have said a prime example involved the Red Cross Society of China, which saw its reputation damaged after a Chinese woman lied and said she had ties with the group. The woman had initially used her account to flaunt her wealth, prompting Chinese Internet users to speculate that the Red Cross Society had been allowing employees to misuse donated money.
To help fight online rumors, Sina Weibo has been encouraging, rather than requiring, its “grassroots” users with large followers to switch to verified accounts, which display the users’ real names. Sina currently has 800,000 of these users registered with verified accounts, and the company is targeting 1.2 million verified users by the end of the year.
Most of Sina Weibo’s users come from China’s largest cities, Chao later said. A large number are students in colleges or high school. In the future, the company plans to try and attract more residents in smaller cities.