Imagine a life without Facebook. I'm sure some of you just got an uneasy feeling in your stomach after reading that. Social media has become so tightly woven in many of our daily lives that it is difficult to imagine what we would do without it. Although social media is a part of our routine, in several countries with different circumstances this isn't the case.
The people of China have embraced social networking as a means of personal expression that they are not used to. Being able to share your contesting opinions in a public arena is something many Chinese have never been able to do until the rise of the Internet. Many American social networks are not allowed in China, but counterparts such as microblogging site Sina Weibo have been gaining popularity. Another big player Renren, heralded as the "Facebook of China", announced their IPO back in February 2011.
As social networking continues to grow in China, the country seems to be torn between two sides. Government officials want to embrace domestically created social media sites as another step towards becoming a global technology super power. On the other hand, these same officials are frightened by the potential destabilizing power and loss of government control that could result.
Social networking is great for China in terms of breaking down authoritarian boundaries for citizens, but is not always easy. The Chinese government puts many measures in place for monitoring Internet activity including an advanced firewall and scanning for questionable key words. They even hire people to jump into online conversations to drive them in a direction that would be favorable to the government. Sneaky stuff.
Chinese social networks must keep close watch themselves on the content being distributed. Any unruly conversations from people on the network can result in the company being disciplined (and you thought moderating your Facebook Fan Page for curse words was time consuming). A team of 100 is in charge of monitoring Sina Weibo 24/7 to remove any content that could lead to a shutdown.
Since the Chinese news is highly censored, social networks are a source for protest and activism that is easier to work around. The Chinese language inherently can convey more information on microblogging sites than English. 140 Chinese characters are often able to relay entire news stories (as opposed to 140 characters of English).
The battle for personal empowerment in China is now louder than ever. Social media has been a means for political revolution in other countries, and could possibly do the same in China. As technology advances, the fight from the Chinese government to keep the conversation one-sided will become harder and harder.
This makes me thankful to live in a land with freedom of speech where I can share this post with you all and not be worried about getting a knock on the door. It is easy to take this for granted sometimes. Everyone really isn't on Facebook.
I don't always write serious blog posts, but when I do, I prefer writing about the proliferation of freedom as made possible by social media. Good night America.