China’s Weibo restricts overseas users on Tiananmen anniversary

This weekend marked the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in China in 1989, one of the most infamous dates in the country’s modern history.

The government has never acknowledged nor commented upon the event — which resulted in upwards of 300 deaths as troops forcibly suppressed student-led protests.

China’s internet regulators are usually hard at work over the period, wiping out and preventing any potentially damaging comments online. In recent years, the state has put the onus on social network operators themselves to ‘police’ their users. This year microblogging service Weibo — “China’s Twitter” — clamped down on all overseas users with a ban on uploading images and videos from Saturday until the end of Monday. But, as the FT noted, there was no ban — officially, at least — since Weibo explained that the procedure, which likely affected millions, was down to a “systems upgrade.”

The ban went beyond media uploads since international users were also unable to change their profile information, such as their associated image or name, as Mashable reported. That countered moves that users have made in the past in support of the iconic anniversary. The Weibo post announcing the special “upgrade” even had its comment section disabled, leaving global users unable to mark their frustration directly.

Weibo has been hit hard by internet regulators in the past. In 2012, it had its comment section banned for all users in response to harboring purportedly rumors of a political coup. It has also been a primary target of China’s ‘real name’ rules which aim to reign in online content by making users directly identifiable, and therefore accountable for their content.

Weibo is listed on the Nasdaq and is part owned by e-commerce giant Alibaba. Twitter is the Western tech company that it is most commonly likened to but, unlike its San Francisco-based peer, Weibo has shown an ability to monetize its userbase of 340 million. Live-streaming and sophisticated advertising products have boosted its stock price and investor interest. That, combined with a Twitter share price decline following scotched acquisition talks last year, resulted in Weibo’s marketcap overtaking Twitter’s in February of this year.

At the time of writing, Weibo is valued at $16.33 billion versus a $13.22 billion for Twitter.

Hat tip @jamepslloyd