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Into the Blogosphere
Cover Stories Series 2012> Into the Blogosphere
UPDATED: January 19, 2012 NO. 4 JANUARY 26, 2012
Jumping on the Online Bandwagon
Government agencies endeavor to make the fast expanding micro-blogosphere more transparent
By Yin Pumin

"We also present some regular features, including information from police labs and crime scenes to make our posts interesting and facilitate interaction between followers and officers," Zhao said.

In addition, Zhao said that government departments and officials should take a tolerant stance toward dissenting comments on micro-blogs even if they are critical and sometimes biased. According to him, Ping'an Beijing has never deleted replies since its launch.

In January 2011 Du Shaozhong, Deputy Director of the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, became the first government spokesperson in the city to use a micro-blog to talk directly with the public.

"Public doubts and criticism help government departments improve their work," Du said, adding that officials should not be afraid of receiving negative comments online.

Trust building

"What to post, when to post, and how to reply to a post are real challenges for government micro-bloggers who represent their offices in the eyes of the public. For example, how to choose the right words to quell public doubt via a 140-character micro-blog when an unexpected accident happens is extremely important and difficult," said Wang Sixin, a law professor at the Communication University of China (CUC) in Beijing.

However, the government still lags behind in terms of its ability to deal with emergencies on the micro-blogosphere.

"Recent Internet sensations and outcries following major accidents and disasters have highlighted the failure of some government agencies to respond to public concerns online in a timely manner," said Li Weining, Deputy Director of the Institute of Public Opinion on the Internet at CUC.

For example, a high-speed train crash occurred in Wenzhou, east China's Zhejiang Province, on July 23, 2011, which left 40 dead and 191 injured. The first report about the crash appeared on Sina Weibo more than two hours earlier than media reports on the Internet, according to official Xinhua News Agency. In the first 24 hours following the accident, more than 3 million messages were sent on Sina Weibo by eyewitnesses and people who were near the crash site, but no official statement from the government could be found on the platform.

"Micro-blogs have shortened the principle of responding within the 'golden 24 hours' to within an hour after an emergency occurs. Government micro-blogs will inescapably be the focus of the public looking for news on developments after a major public event or emergency," Li said.

His remarks were echoed by Wu Hui, a professor at the Party School of the Communist Party of China Central Committee. Wu said that the faster the government responds, the higher the possibility that it will win public trust and support, and the chance for misleading rumors to emerge will be reduced.

More importantly, Huang Shengming, a media studies professor also at CUC, said that the authorities should efficiently address and respond to problems and concerns posted by Internet users. He suggested that tangible evidence of responses to public feedback should also be provided on the micro-blogs to assuage public doubts about their efficacy.

However, using micro-blogs alone is not nearly enough for the government to solve its communication problem, said Wang Sixin at CUC.

"More offline work should be done to respond to the feedback the government is receiving and further online communication efforts are necessary," he said. "The government should also engage in more face-to-face communication with citizens to help address their concerns."

Government Micro-bloggers

In 2010, government micro-bloggers were mainly opened by departments and officials of public security, tourism, publicity and justice. In 2011, the distribution was more even and covered other fields such as education, culture and sports.

The Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau, the Chinese International Search and Rescue Team and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were the top three government micro-bloggers on Sina Weibo, in terms of both followers and other indicators.

The top 10 government department accounts had 10.3 million followers with a total of 46,000 posts, while the top 10 accounts of individual officials had 10.8 million followers with 44,000 posts.

In addition, the number of verified accounts of government departments and individual officials on Tencent Weibo, another major micro-blogging service provider in China, exceeded 18,000 at the end of September 2011, with nearly 300 accounts operated by high-level government agencies and senior officials.

Email us at: yinpumin@bjreview.com

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