There are only two ways to look at the recent People’s Daily Weibo ranking of Chinese official Weibo accounts (in simplified Chinese):—
- Progress (minor!) has been made (mostly self-congratulatory)
- There remains a tonne of problems to be solved
I’ll look at it from critical perspectives.
1. Weibo in China still is about sensitive topics.
Never mind the government has just about canned (uncontrolled) discussion about Occupy Central; even thousands of miles away from Central, they still have critical, thorny issues to deal with. The recent People’s Daily Weibo ranking wasn’t blind to this. It listed six such topics:—
- Illegal land appropriation (in essence you having your land taken away whilst being paid too little; or getting it seized against the law outright)
- Education (the whole system in China is a disaster right now)
- Corruption (although Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan are doing a remarkable job pruning the communist country’s graft-ridden suspects)
- Unpaid debts
- Dealing with unlicensed vehicles (“black taxis”; as in those without a permit)
- Improving government / governance
2. In spite of responses from official accounts, the fact is, virtually no government Weibo account cares about what you tweet about.
Pole position in this survey was captured by Beijing’s “non-emergency government hotline” (link in simplified Chinese), which was “lauded” for responding to merely seven requests. That is an extremely low number. The city of Beijing has around 18 million inhabitants. Over half a billion people are online. A mere seven replies is not good enough.
3. Approval of what the government is tweeting isn’t forthcoming.
And I say this from a “netizen” point of view. Pole position was claimed by the official government Weibo account of Yuanping, in central China’s province of Shanxi. It got a “mere” 15 likes. Quantity-ise (can that be considered a word, perhaps?) in terms of China’s millions, even billions, and that figure is not even 0.1%.
Maybe if the authorities promoted their accounts more — or posted content people were going to understand with more ease — they’d see their Likes increase. (On Weibo, you do have an option to Like a tweet.)
4. The fastest response from a government Weibo ended up canned.
If you got your answer from the government within 5 minutes, that’s seriously good efficiency. Less good, though, if what you got back was a boilerplate, canned response. An issue raised by a Beijing resident about property management in Beijing houses elicited this canned response:
Hello. Thank you for following the Beijing Non-Emergency Help and Service Centre. The issue that you have raised will be verified by us, then be submitted for processing.
In essence we just knew that you were there, that this wasn’t a dead account — and that was it, really.
The Upshot: There’s no secret — you’re now just a screen away from the government in China via Weibo. But there’s really not much use if canned responses are what you get to genuine citizen requests. I was expecting more competition and much more in the way of tweeting information people could really use.
I am not expecting all Weibo accounts to mimic the Swiss Federal Railways (on Twitter). (Honestly, I once tweeted them that I had a real dream about train connections; I woke up from it! In the weirdest of all things that could happen, these guys came out with a list of connections relevant to the trains I was dreaming about! They have since been used as a yardstick of customer service (eat your heart out, America!) on Twitter / “microblogs” in general.) But in a country where Mao’s Serve the People still serves as a kind of official mantra, I would expect better interaction between the government and the governed. China still hasn’t “woken up” about its people paying taxes to feed the authorities, as is the case in the West. But at least, we should get a better response from the e-mandarins.