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Conversations on the evolution of online media

We’ve now been in Shanghai for over three days and it seems that here, more than in Beijing, the complexities that have arisen with the emergence of online media are a focus for news organizations and students.

On Monday, we visited Shanghai International Studies University, where the students discussed the disadvantages and advantages of China’s “great firewall.” While the firewall blocks the access to the networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, the students said they were all still familiar with the functions of those sites and actually, use many Chinese sites that are similar. When we asked what the most commonly visited sites were, almost all of the students responded with Sina Weibo, a Twitter clone, Renren, the Facebook of China and Baidu, the Chinese google. This signaled to me that the use of networking and blogging sites are becoming common within the country.

The problem with these sites, however, as noted by Michael Cronkhite from Burson-Marsteller — one of the largest public relations Firms in Shanghai — is that the information being spread throughout them is not always accurate and can create errors in communication. He said that as social media and online networks become a more frequent tool for spreading information, public relation firms and journalists should tread carefully.

When talking with Chinese students about blogging and social networking, the majority said censorship is not something they consistently worry about. A student named Evelyn said when she writes blog posts, she takes into consideration the things that may be censored but that doesn’t limit her ability to write what she feels. If she were to write about a sensitive topic or use specific words that are blocked by the government, those things will appear on the blog with a large “XX.”

Censorship wasn’t deep concern for the students. They were more interested and delighted that they have the opportunity to use Chinese networking sites at all. Christina, a Chinese student who will enter into her sophomore year in the fall, expressed her concern that access to those sites may be blocked in the future since Facebook and Twitter have already been censored by the government in China.

A graduate student from the same university shared similar concern but said she has a deeper understanding why those two social sites are already non-accessible to them. She believes the main reason for this type of censorship could stem from the government’s worry that an over abundance of information could stimulate negative energy in China.

But not having access to Facebook and Twitter is not something that typically upsets Chinese students, she added.

“We don’t have as much of a need for them and we don’t have as much time as people in America might,” she said. “So it doesn’t bother us as much as you might think.”

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