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The power and glory

(China Daily)

10:18, September 18, 2011

China's micro blogs are double-edged swords that can cleave a way up for celebrities or bring them down in an instant. Han Bingbin and Tang Yue zoom in for a closer look at how one celebrity learned some tough lessons on what to do and what not to do.

Yao Chen has been crowned China's "Queen of the micro blogs". It is a title she wears with some discomfort, although the fact that 11 million people follow everything she says on her blog makes her one of the most followed celebrities in the world. Not all are fans, though, and Yao says there are often "unreasonable people" cursing her on her page. She calls it "language violence" and it hurts, she says. She has even considered calling it quits, and she tells us how she misses those days when her "territory" was smaller, but a lot more controllable. It all started in September 2009 - the day she opened an account on Sina Weibo, the country's most popular social network messaging service provider. She was such a novice at that time she needed a friend's help just to get registered. For her, a B-list actress then, it provided an interesting "salon space" where she "shouted to friends across the distance". Six weeks later, her number of followers had reached 100,000, a figure that both shocked and flattered her. "If these people had shouted back at me in a public square, the sound would have made me tremble," she says. Fortunately, they were still a silent, if rapidly growing, majority. But there was more drama to follow.

In the next two years, enthusiastic followers kept joining her micro blog until she became the third most popular micro-blogger in the world, after top Tweeters Lady Gaga and pop idol Justin Bieber. Her popularity opened up career opportunities and she started appearing on big budget films and earned lucrative endorsement contracts for cosmetics and other products.

But more significantly, her popularity became a case study of the dynamic changes in virtual communications in China.

According to a study by the China Internet Network Information Center, by the end of June 2011, the country had 195 million micro-bloggers, an increase of 132 million in the first half of this year alone.

That is to say, two in five Chinese netizens are tweeting, many of them through their cell phones.

This is how it works. Micro blog messages are limited to 140 Chinese characters, and are quick and easy to read. A mutual tracking system weaves a strong and effective network that helps information spread like a virus - one click sends a message to thousands and the thousands can forward it to millions in another moment. It can go viral in an instant, and spread to legions.

This speed provides a petri dish for public opinion, creating a platform that often exposes the darker sides of society and the underbelly of injustice.

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