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August 3rd, 2011
12:25 PM ET

Sina Weibo CEO speaks out on China Net freedom... and censorship

Charles Chao

Charles Chao is one of the most powerful men in China.

His Internet empire, Sina.com, hosts hundreds of millions of Net users and online expression that is unprecedented in both scale and intensity.

The mind-boggling statistic is well known – China is home to nearly half a billion Internet users. And Sina's Weibo, or microblog, rules the roost. It's the country's biggest social media site, with sleek functionality compared to both Twitter and Facebook.

Unlike other high-profile China dotcom CEOs, Chao is not a technocrat with an engineering degree. He's a former TV reporter from Shanghai who pursued further studies in the United States. (It's safe to say he's probably the most influential alumnus of the University of Oklahoma School of Journalism.)

I interviewed Chao at Sina.com headquarters in Beijing in mid-June, before the July 23rd Wenzhou train tragedy which has been called a "watershed moment" for the site.

The high-speed train collision killed 39 people and sparked a massive outpouring of anger directed at officials for their handling of the crash. Much of that outrage played out on Sina Weibo. But even before then, Weibo actively played host to fierce online debates about corruption and social injustice in China.

Chao is well aware of the power his Website has in advancing freedom of expression in China. He says: "China has become much more open and much more transparent. People have a lot of freedom to express themselves and Weibo can bring that freedom to a next level. Not only can they express, they can distribute that content and opinions with their Weibo account."

But the Sina chief is also acutely aware of the delicate balancing act he must strike - in growing the Sina Weibo user base in a hyper-competitive environment, meeting the expectations of a Web audience accustomed to speaking their minds, and not offending the Chinese government to the point of a shut-down.

And to strike that balance, Chao must harness the delicate art of self-censorship.

Chao declines to offer specific numbers about how many Sina.com employees are managing and censorsing Weibo content, but concedes that "there are people working in terms of looking at the content itself and the message itself. There are a lot of rumors on the microblog itself, a lot of fraud on the microblog. There are a lot of things we need to take care of."

Chao says his content management is akin to a Japanese social networking company monitoring its site for fraud. But in China, it's much more than that.

The laws and regulations on Chinese Internet content are broad and vague in wording. Banned words and phrases are not specified. But there is a blanket ban on anything that would harm state security and social stability...

Charles Chao knows where the line is, and doesn't need to be told.

Part 1 of the interview

Part 2 of the interview

Part 3 of the interview

soundoff (43 Responses)
  1. Mário Silva

    Chao is well aware of the power his Website has in advancing freedom of expression in China. He says: "China has become much more open and much more transparent. People have a lot of freedom to express themselves and Weibo can bring that freedom to a next level. Not only can they express, they can distribute that content and opinions with their Weibo account."
    Charles Chao knows where the line is, and doesn't need to be told.
    .....It's always Kristie Lu Stout that says everything .,...
    ...Never stay for comments,...I'snt ?

    August 4, 2011 at 4:39 am | Reply
  2. 韩浩天

    哦?sina?对没错!新浪是中国微博领域最杰出的。

    August 4, 2011 at 7:18 am | Reply
  3. Richie Walker

    Basic ass kissing communications billionaire in China. Unacceptable in today's world period. No excuses for any censorship are allowed.

    I only wish Kristie would use some of her Stanford gained intelligence and call it on guys like this, look him in the eye and tell him what a chickenshit he truly is.

    At least Google stood up to the cretin communist authorities.

    August 4, 2011 at 7:33 am | Reply
  4. James

    The "balancing" act that this article speaks of is completely artificial. Basically, ths CEO must "balance" people's legitimate desire for free speech with a totalitarian government's antidemocratic attempts to stifle this. More to the point, people like Charles Chao will only make their fortunes if they toe the line – as the article states, he does his toadying without needing to be told. Instead of reading like a hagiography of Mr. Chao and his willingness to "play ball" with the regime's authoritarian demands, it should have focused on the chilling effects of free speech suppression that happen in China every day and how they affect ordinary people without Mr. Chaos' fortune built upon his pliant complicity.

    August 4, 2011 at 7:51 am | Reply
  5. KP

    I would really like to beleive that there is any kind of freedom of expression allowed through or by media or internet portals in china. I really feel sorry for anyone who feels that they have this false sence of power in ChIna.Either you are direct contributer to state sponsored policing of web and media or you are a fool. Take that from exit of Goolge from China. The ruling party in china will allow no such thing.

    August 4, 2011 at 11:47 am | Reply
  6. Jim

    Maybe not perfect but absolutely progress.

    August 4, 2011 at 1:23 pm | Reply
  7. sweat_L

    Freedom ?maybe

    August 4, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Reply
  8. sweat_L

    LOL

    August 4, 2011 at 4:45 pm | Reply
  9. tyler

    Chao is a smart men.In the face of a so complicated enviroment in China,he can manage his big business so good and at the same time don't offend the chinese government to the point of a shut-down.That is not every one could do.
    He have nuts,he have things done with a delicated manner too.That is what we all should learn.
    About the webset,we all want to say sth free,china is more open than before.

    August 4, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Reply
  10. Kogwin

    Sina Weibo would not have existed if the China government did not intervene and use their "laws" to kick out GOOGLE and internet freedom.

    August 4, 2011 at 5:56 pm | Reply
  11. DrBen Nijhoff

    Just wondering: Where is the video of the Interview? I would love to hear him speak out for himself, as it is as much the way he will answer as the answer itself that would interest me. But thanks anyway – this is 'Dope' Stuff.

    August 5, 2011 at 1:20 am | Reply
  12. Marcelo

    I think he is not being so transparent as he should be because he works with the Central Government and follow their rules of removing some messages that don't match their interests. He didn't comment about it.

    August 5, 2011 at 1:58 am | Reply
  13. kissingabc

    嘿嘿

    August 5, 2011 at 2:13 am | Reply
  14. Jojo

    Is that Hulu?

    August 5, 2011 at 4:21 am | Reply
  15. Endless

    As a chinese,i want to say sina's weibo have changed our daily life.so many people log in weibo every day. They can get imformations in time. And now internet is most important way to press ourself,say anything what we want to say.there are real saying freedom

    August 5, 2011 at 4:25 am | Reply
  16. Jojo

    Is that the father of the phillipinno facebook?

    August 5, 2011 at 4:48 am | Reply
  17. Mário Silva

    Good examples involving this POST should be published. So I think contribute to a healthy excitement left by the content here. About Charles Chao and http://newsstream.blogs.cnn.com results this exempple :
    -----------------------------–
    MESSAGE IN FACEBOOK

    há 8 minutosMário Silva
    Para RádioSIM e pelas qualidades que apresenta serem susceptiveis de constituir um bom exemplo , que me pareçe perigar , nesta crise social que todos atravessamos

    há 2 horasMário Silva
    Mário Silva
    Security and social stability are very important valeurs...

    Sina Weibo CEO speaks out on China Net freedom... and censorship
    newsstream.blogs.cnn.com
    Charles Chao is one of the most powerful men in China. His Internet empire, Sina.com, hosts hundreds of millions of Net users and online expression that is unprecedented in both scale and intensity.
    quinta-feira às 5:50 · Gosto · · Partilhar
    Mário Silva Charles Chao my friends list will have to be reorganized and managed.
    CHINA, STOUT AND YOU are a "logic song" very noble on the Internet and this social network.
    But much more than that is a "love song" Life.
    há 45 minutos · Gosto
    Mário Silva CNN is another WORLD LIVING WITH ME everytime,...Facebook need be classified and i don't know make that task,....Really,...It´s a problem,....a great problem
    há 34 minutos · Gosto
    --------------------------
    Waiting a probable ( ? ) success , accept
    Kind regards

    Mário Silva

    August 6, 2011 at 9:41 am | Reply
  18. Gao Le

    an interesting phenomenon indeed! more on the significance of weibo in China can be understood through this article – http://thinkingchinese.com/index.php?page_id=340

    August 6, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Reply
  19. SHtintin

    Please hold on, we all see the changes!

    August 6, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Reply
  20. Michael A. Robson

    "Chao is a smart men.In the face of a so complicated enviroment in China,he can manage his big business so good and at the same time don't offend the chinese government to the point of a shut-down"

    What's the complication? If the Govt wants to bury a story or a SNWB trend, they just call this guy up, and within a few minutes the story will be gone–harmonized, they call it.

    It's only hard/complicated if you have a conscience.

    August 7, 2011 at 11:49 am | Reply
  21. Jay Fi

    being based in beijing, it was funny and sad to see my TV screen going black for minutes when the internet tycoons was interviewed by CNN and commenting on freedom of speech issues.
    charles chao himself also being censored by his government then.

    August 9, 2011 at 7:03 am | Reply
  22. mubuntuy

    I am always looking at it , while i am not a user .

    August 15, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Reply
  23. Mário Silva

    "Opening up the Internet in China" is a very good video .
    ..."I am always looking at it" said mubuntuy....
    ...No comments,...It's all.

    August 15, 2011 at 8:11 pm | Reply
  24. Mário Silva

    "China’s hot Weibo space" grow 200 % is really a Social phenomena.
    Really Kristie Lu Stout is giving viewers a better understanding of the world with data Information for 3 months in 2010 final.
    ...Weibo users ( groups in general ) are actually 50 % of China´s Internet users... !!!...
    Actually Microblogger.com is a good site for a better ICT complete and actual understandig.

    August 15, 2011 at 10:15 pm | Reply
  25. Lu

    Freedom? lol limited..

    August 16, 2011 at 1:03 am | Reply
  26. Katerina Toms

    Boomer Sooner!

    August 17, 2011 at 8:50 am | Reply
  27. Freeman lai

    I'm chinese,I know that more and more people are angry about communist party because of the harm it bring to people with the unequal development of economy, but the goverment control the GREAT FIRE WALL and CCMC(CHINA MOBINE),If you are too influnential, they can see you through this. Big brother is watching you.
    Welcome to China, I live in Guizhou province,my name is Lai Junjie,if you travel to Guizhou, I will be happy to meet you

    August 18, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Reply
  28. Mário Silva

    ...Welcome to China it's really all for the best End of this Post,...

    August 20, 2011 at 12:06 am | Reply
  29. Bastle

    There is still much injustice on Weibo.As a user,I can see it clearly.

    August 20, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Reply
  30. yan

    Western people just like to watch a war in China and get their profits from it, just it. If you just look back 100 years ago and read a little bit history what happened in China. You will know what your grandparents did in here – used weapons and force to make it open for your business. You just LOOTERS, no more. We Chinese people can cure ourselves, no need for teaching us how to make it open. We have our own ways to resolve it.

    August 23, 2011 at 9:29 pm | Reply
  31. Dongye

    Freedom cannot be reached in one day. SIna Weibo is making prograss anyway, although there are still harsh censorships on media and speach freedom in China. I believe Chao knows how to protect himself and his company and push forward the democratic and free society little by little.

    August 25, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Reply
  32. amsoio

    中國的人權怎麼辦哦

    September 2, 2011 at 9:14 am | Reply
  33. fly

    近来看人民日报,高层对微薄的态度很是谨慎。
    一方面,微博问政有利于监督官员防止腐败;
    另一方面,对于批评的声音让党尴尬不已。

    高层乐见社会变革,确应此不想出乱子。
    中国不是利比亚,巨大的人口基数,深远的影响,谁能负起责任 ?

    September 7, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Reply
  34. eric

    it's stupid for one who wants weibo to make any change on China's regime...because,,, just as what as Chair Mao said, the regime built upon weapons; hundreds of thousands or even billions of microblogs or blogs is nothing but a pile of waste paper, only one bullet can penetrate and make it disappear immediately.

    September 8, 2011 at 11:40 am | Reply
  35. 社会主义

    中国共产党万岁,我只是一名高中生,但我热爱我的祖国

    September 17, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Reply
  36. yrtbotw

    HAHA!!!i'm the king of the world.

    September 21, 2011 at 7:54 am | Reply
  37. 其实新浪也会和谐掉一些真实的东西,如温州列车事故

    其实新浪也会和谐掉一些真实的东西,如温州列车事故

    October 15, 2011 at 2:56 am | Reply
  38. lily

    why must our govt block all the social network like facebook, etc that can be very beneficial to us chinese? maybe because they never want us to ever wise-up or get the sense of democracy so as to not to challange them when they make their authocratic laws and nums! its better to have your freedom [ ie speech, gathering, worship, expression etc] instead of giving me your so called whatever!!!! human right remains crucial to respect in every giving society...

    November 14, 2011 at 11:44 am | Reply
  39. snow

    what about net freedom and censorship? everytime i try to challenge capitalism in western websites, my comments get deleted. isnt that censorship? everytime i call out the western troops for murdering innocent people, on western websites, my comments get censored. theres nothing free about the net, especially since it is controlled by the u.s govt, and invented by the u.s military. the internet will serve two purposes only, to attack the enemies of the usa, and promote propaganda. i wish China or anyone else would invent an alternative to the internet, so that we dont have to be bombarded by capitalist propaganda, and so that the truth might actually be revealed about what western governments do around the world, instead of what it currently is used for- to cover up the crimes of western capitalist governments

    November 14, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Reply
  40. The Blue Kite

    However, the fact that the Chinese government's policy, along with its economy is approaching the end – there is no joy at all aboyt that. Not only because that collapse of China's will "touch" the whole world, but the fact, that this collapse will not change that what has been done in the past. This will not return nothing, what has been destroyed. It will not return millions of innocent peoples lives, all the victims of government, who were killed, and exiled. The whole "mighty Chinese economy is built on a vast number of innocent humans lives. China`s economy is sealed with blood of innocent people. Chinese Communists will have to assume all the responsibility for all of these crimes, but Chinese Communists should know something about Tibetans. The Tibetans, never ceased to pray for the souls of these Chinese who have killed Them. Om Mani Padme Hum Hrih

    November 22, 2011 at 1:23 am | Reply
  41. 買 sustanon

    我非常感謝每一位newsstream.blogs.cnn.com 信息讀取。我肯定會蔓延對您的網站與人語。的歡呼聲。

    December 12, 2011 at 4:13 pm | Reply
  42. Mário Silva

    China opens its internal communications to the Internet, slow and controlled as required. We can read shanghaidaily.com/article/?id=490861 , ...
    ...and "FREE WiFi service is now available in Shanghai's Lujiazui area , ".. shanghaidaily.com/article/?id=490920 , ...
    ... I think it is completely accurate and correct the way China deals with this subject ... so important and so controversial, ... slowly and controlled
    ... there is adherence to the Internet as a powerful means of communication, which is really and FREE WIFI , ... see shanghaidaily for example , ...

    December 24, 2011 at 10:13 pm | Reply
  43. sarah

    This video, again, proves the bias of western journalism and the self-important gesture. Good job Charles Chao.

    July 3, 2012 at 11:17 pm | Reply

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