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Use Weibo as a guide, not a master

(Global Times)

10:51, August 05, 2011

Weibo is increasingly dominating the way information is perceived in China, while traditional media sources have gradually surrendered the power of guiding the public discourse agenda.

One of Weibo's biggest advantages is its speed, as shown when the first piece of information regarding the July 23 bullet train accident came from Weibo. It is estimated that more than half of all news tips are first broken by Weibo and the like. This revolution in information technology cannot be reversed.

But more noteworthy than its speed is Weibo's ability to set the agenda of public discussion. Weibo has done this on many issues such as the new phenomenon of independent candidates running for local people's congresses or whether the death penalty should be kept. Prominent opinion leaders on Weibo have consequently received constant exposure in traditional media.

The traditional media's increasing reliance on Weibo is logical as it can better mirror public opinion and demands. Hence it serves the purpose of a major news-gathering resource.

But Weibo's representation of public opinions is only partial. The constitution of Weibo's user group does not match Chinese society.

The anonymous nature of Weibo makes it a perfect harbor for extremism. These issues hinder this new platform from taking its full social responsibility. On the contrary, reasonable solutions can often be overrun by strong sentiment.

Traditional media should pay close attention to Weibo, but should avoid being swayed by it. Otherwise, it will eliminate the independent thought and diversified opinions of traditional media. Weibo has displayed a lower tolerance of minority opinions than real society.

It is worrying that many traditional media personnel have started to worship Weibo and lost the ability to judge it objectively. This contributes to the overwhelming emotion that currently rules Weibo.

Media staff should maintain their independence from Weibo. If they simply follow what others have been saying and express similar emotions, that would be a sad sacrifice of their standard and professionalism.

This would lead traditional media toward self-destruction.


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