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Facts about the people s republic of

July 8, 2011, 7: Where was former President Jiang Zemin? Was he very ill, recently deceased, or for some reason not wanted there? No explanation was given for his absence — not even an official acknowledgment of his nonattendance. And in the absence of reported and verifiable information, rumors in China breed like rabbits.

  • Extensive experience in running base areas and waging war before 1949 had given the Chinese Communist Party CCP deeply ingrained operational habits and proclivities;
  • July 8, 2011, 7;
  • Was he very ill, recently deceased, or for some reason not wanted there?
  • Instead a search would yield the error message:

Using Google Maps, which shows real-time traffic information in China, Weibo users confirmed that the main road outside Hospital 301 had been blocked. Some passers-by also noticed and blogged that the small parade of black cars driving into the hospital were not the standard government-issue Audis, but black Mercedes-Benzes fit for VIPs. No one seemed to have any specific evidence linking the road closure with Jiang, but by the evening it seemed to be taken as almost fact on Weibo that he had passed away and that an official announcement was coming soon.

Top Party leaders, the microbloggers claimed, had been summoned back to Beijing! And then … nothing. Thursday morning came and went, the papers published the usual mix of stories, and still no news. One Hong Kong TV station jumped the gun and ran an obituary, but then retracted it.

Instead a search would yield the error message: But as of Friday afternoon, the line between fact and fiction remained unclear. Jiang Zemin remains unaccounted for.

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First, it allows users to more easily and directly share photos and videos — more like a Facebook wall than a 140-character text-only entry.

This is handy for sharing visual tips like Google traffic maps more virally. Second, and more importantly, is who uses the website. In the West, Twitter is just one of many sources of unfiltered information, whereas in China, access to unfiltered information is harder to come by; microblogs are almost the only game in town.

This gives the platform special potency in China. Weibo spreads fact and fiction alike, at warp speed. Weibo users only really have access to initially unfiltered information. Like all Chinese Internet companies, Sina, the company that owns and operates Weibo, must maintain its own in-house censorship staff. Part of what they do is routine: Part of what these censors do is respond to real-time government directives about facts about the people s republic of topics that have arisen suddenly and are deemed too sensitive, and so need to be contained.

In such instances, through a combination of automated mechanisms i. This is what happened in the case of the Jiang Zemin rumors. Of course, this means that the censors — both government directors and in-house corporate censors — are always a few steps behind the rumors, waiting and watching for discussions to erupt and then trying to quiet them again. A few years ago, several competing microblogging platforms existed in China, but Weibo has since emerged as the clear winner — in no small part because its parent company, Sina, has figured out how to manage the tricky balance between allowing enough discussion to satisfy users and acting quickly to stifle it when need be.

Still, the Jiang Zemin rumors, whatever truth lies behind them, seems to have caught everyone off guard — spreading nationally, and then internationally, extremely quickly. And speculation still simmers. Christina Larson is an award-winning science and technology journalist based in Beijing.