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Chinese micro-blogs a hit with police

But Sina users urged to snitch on each other...

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China’s micro-blogging platforms are a hit with the country’s web-savvy police forces, despite being forced to implement yet more prohibitive regulations this week.

Provincial and local public security bureaus across the land are so keen on the Twitter-like weibos that the People’s Daily Online Public Opinion Monitoring Center released a table of the top ten most influential police accounts.

The University of Hong Kong-based China Media Project blog reproduced a version of the rankings, which were drawn up according to criteria including number of followers, their activity levels, and number of original posts.

For the record, top dog was @GuangzhouPublicSecurity, followed by @JinanPublicSecurity, and third came Harbin police’s optimistically-titled account, @PeacfulHarbin.

The accounts are not just a way for the forces to appear more accessible and transparent but also help them catch crooks.

Guangzhou police, for example, ran an online campaign to catch 54 of the region’s most wanted suspects, drawing in nearly 100,000 users, according to the blog.

Of course, there is a more obvious reason for the police to be active on weibos - namely to help them monitor, censor and shape public opinion. For this reason alone, the companies behind such platforms can probably rest assured they are not in any danger of being shut down.

Weibo operators have, however, been under significant pressure from the authorities over the past few months to step up self-censorship efforts.

The latest chapter came on Monday when the country’s hugely popular micro-blogging site Sina Weibo introduced new “user contracts”.

The code of conduct forbids users to do things like spread harmful rumours, call for mass gatherings or personally insult others.

Although the system did not introduce anything that wasn’t already banned by the authorities, it could be viewed – along with the recently introduced real name registration rules - as another way for the government to control what gets said online and by whom.

An accompanying points system was rolled out to ensure those breaking the rules will be deducted credits and could eventually have their account cancelled.

Interestingly, 'Weibo Credit' encourages users to report each other for breaking the rules, neatly subverting the very idea of social media.

Although the new rules have ostensibly been implemented by Sina, operator of one Weibo, on its own initiative, it’s likely the government had something to do with it , especially given the firm was singled out for unspecified punishment in the fall-out from the Bo Xilai scandal. ®

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