With the development of the mobile Internet, social networking has become an indispensable part of people’s daily life. Weibo is one of the most popular social media in China, allowing users to easily share their lives and opinions and interact with other users (php. cn, 2022). However, with the advent of the Internet era, the issue of privacy and digital rights has gradually become a topic of concern. As a social media platform, Weibo has some problems with user data collection, platform governance, and business model. These problems are related to the protection of user privacy and digital rights, which is worth in-depth discussion and reflection. This blog will critically analyze the performance of the Weibo platform in terms of privacy and digital rights, with a view to promoting the development of the Internet industry and the protection of users’ rights and interests.
Privacy and Digital Rights, what has Weibo done?
Privacy and digital rights are significant to web governance. Protecting users’ privacy and digital rights can not only strengthen users’ trust and loyalty to the platform but also play a role in solving real social problems. Platforms will need to reach out more to others, and they should build stronger relationships with experts, civil society groups, and government regulators, and find new ways to encourage genuine engagement by user communities (Suzor, 2019).
For example, at the early stage of the epidemic, Weibo launched the “Epidemic Prevention in Action” campaign, calling on Internet citizens to donate materials and carry out public welfare activities by gathering offline civil organizations. In this process, Weibo attaches great importance to users’ privacy and digital rights, whereas ensures users obtain accurate and reliable information through strict information review and preventing rumors from spreading. At the same time, Weibo also provides users with multiple ways to communicate and express themselves, encourages users to participate in epidemic prevention and control work, and demonstrates the positive contribution social media platforms have made to Internet governance.
Not only that, in the past few years, the Weibo platform has been working to improve the level of user privacy protection. For example, the Weibo platform has developed a series of privacy protection measures, such as encrypted transmission, two-tier authentication, and privacy policies, to protect users’ privacy and digital rights.
In addition, Weibo regularly releases announcements and statements on privacy protection and data security to clarify the platform’s attitude and commitment to users’ privacy and digital rights and interests. Weibo has also established a sound mechanism for users to report violations promptly to protect users’ privacy and digital rights.
These measures show that the platform attaches great importance to the protection of users’ privacy and digital rights. Weibo is also trying hard to improve its level of privacy protection. This can not only improve users’ trust in the platform but also help enhance the effectiveness and feasibility of network governance.
The “996” work policy banned on Weibo——Have we lost the right to freely discuss the irrationality of work mechanism?
Most Weibo users found that some pornographic images posted in or before 2013 were still alive, while topics related to politics and human rights were hard to find. Social media has a longer and more extensive history of censoring sensitive social human rights content than pornography (Cui, 2021). A case in point is the series of censorship, banning, and blocking of content related to the “996 working week” on Weibo platforms in 2019.
The term “996” refers to a common working time system in some Chinese Internet companies, where people work nine hours a day, six days a week. The system has been controversial, sparking many online discussions about working hours and labor rights.
On the eve of International Labor Day 2019, in April 2019, a Weibo user named “Kanzhaji” posted an article titled “996. ICU” on the platform, accusing some companies of forcing their employees to work 996 hours a week and causing physical and mental health problems due to overwork. The article quickly attracted wide attention and discussion.
As soon as the topic was raised, many “office workers” netizens expressed negative emotions and their ability to empathize with each other. Some netizens commented on the topic, criticizing “996” for distorting history. Some netizens also believe that the higher the long-term “996” is, the more it belittles and kills the normal 8-hour workday, and that “996” is more likely to be brainwashed by some well-intentioned people going against the tide of history. Another netizen said that the eight-hour working day, which workers around the world have spent 200 years of their lives on, is being trampled on by capitalists who openly advocate the “996” working day, ignoring labor laws, ahead of the 2019 International Labor Day. This is not only a mockery of socialism, but also a reversal of history. Such views were supported by a large number of Internet users, who urged workers to unite against “996”.
However, the project contains negative comments and boycotts against some enterprises, including some well-known Chinese enterprises such as Tencent, ByteDance, and Huawei. These well-known enterprises above all have commercial interests with Weibo, more or less. Some companies paid Weibo and suppressed a range of comments on the topic, in an effort to control public opinion on the topic. Therefore, when people started discussing the “996 working system” and calling for better working conditions on this platform, it was censored and blocked. Many Weibo posts and comments on the topic were deleted, even if they were insinuations made by a subset of users. The topic has been banned, and in worse cases, many users have had their accounts suspended for a long time or even permanently for participating in other discussions. As a result, many users’ rights of association on the internet and freedom of speech are restricted and violated.
This example shows how the platform often defends its commercial interests and politically sensitive issues at the expense of users’ digital rights. This situation makes it difficult for users to express their opinions and views, which poses a threat to the free speech part of digital rights. Therefore, Weibo needs to pay more attention to users’ association rights on the internet as well as freedom of speech, to provide users with a more open and fairer social platform environment.
It is not difficult to think that the platform implemented the control of users’ speech in this case because of the consideration of the network ecology, to build a harmonious online communication platform, to further quell labor sentiment, and to maintain the reputation of the company and the stability of the job market. However, the blocking operation based on an unreasonable censorship system cannot judge the user’s behavior fairly but may lead to deeper chaos. After the incident, a huge number of “guidelines” circulated online for the platform’s blocking operation, that is, in a fixed time to publishing three to five original contents containing nine pictures, adhering to a month can greatly improve the probability of not being blocked. Many marketing accounts and malicious accounts are using this method to occupy the search results, thus crowding out the normal users of the network space.
As a social media platform, Weibo’s performance in user data collection and privacy protection has also been controversial. Although Weibo has taken some measures to protect users’ privacy in some aspects, there are still some problems in the actual operation, which may lead to users’ privacy being violated. According to Weibo’s “real name” requirement, when registering a blog account, users are usually asked to provide personal information such as name, gender, age, and mobile phone number so that the platform can provide more personalized services. This information can be used for authentication, security, and other purposes. However, in the process of collecting this information, Weibo does not give users details about the specific way and scope of data use, nor does it inform users how to protect their privacy, which may lead to users’ privacy being stolen by hackers. For example, in May 2019, it was revealed that the personal information of nearly 200 million users on Weibo was leaked. According to the report, the breach was caused by a flaw in Weibo’s data security management, which allowed hackers to steal users’ nicknames, gender, region, blog content, and other information. These users’ private information was traded on a black-market platform called “Xianyu”, resulting in many users’ identity information being stolen and used to post scam ads. The incident has also aroused widespread concern in society about the importance of Internet governance.
In the governance of the social network environment, platforms can strengthen their information security mechanisms and adopt stricter security measures to protect users’ personal information and data from being leaked, misused, or stolen. For example, it can adopt more secure encryption methods to safeguard users’ data， establishing a security audit system to regularly inspect and check security risks. Not only that, but the platform can also more actively promote public participation and supervision, increase user participation and input into platform decisions， including holding user Q&A events, opening up the public for comments and feedback on suggestions, etc. In addition, it can establish a user feedback mechanism so that users may have a direct channel to reflect on problems and make comments on the platform. For example, Mastodon is a decentralized social platform based on open-source technology, which improves the privacy and security of user data by using a distributed architecture (Zignani et al., 2018).
Unlike traditional centralized social platforms, Mastodon is not operated by a single company or organization, but by a network of multiple nodes, each operated and managed by a different user or community.
Mastodon’s decentralized architecture can make user data more secure because user data is no longer stored centrally in one place, but is spread across multiple nodes, thus reducing the risk of hacking and data leakage. At the same time, the Mastodon platform also enables the encryption and anonymity protection of user data, making user privacy better protected.
In addition, the Mastodon platform also improves the maintenance of user privacy and digital rights by promoting public participation and monitoring. Each node on the platform is managed and operated by a different user or community, and each node can be set up and managed according to its own needs and actual situation, allowing users to choose nodes more freely, thus achieving better autonomous control and data protection.
In the same way, the Mastodon platform also provides a user feedback mechanism, allowing users to reflect problems and suggestions directly to the platform, and the platform will actively respond to and solve users’ problems and needs. This open and transparent feedback mechanism can make users trust the platform more. In this way, users can monitor and participate in the management and operation mechanism of the platform, so the platform can better protect users’ privacy as well as digital rights.
In summary, social media platforms face important challenges in maintaining users’ privacy and digital rights. In the current environment, platforms such as Weibo need to strengthen their awareness of protecting users’ private data and digital rights to improve users’ trust in the platform.
Weibo can improve its protection of users’ privacy and digital rights in Internet governance by learning from the above initiatives related to the same type of social media.
Cui, Y. (2021, May 31). “Blogging has its own rules and regulations” – Exploring the censorship mechanism of Weibo. UGE News. Retrieved April 13, 2023, from https://cu-genews.com/2021/05/31/
Xin, R. (2020, March 24). Data leak of 500 million users of Weibo: Address book matching mechanism is the culprit! Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://blog.csdn.net/bingbob/article/details/105085345
Suzor, N. P. (2019). Lawless: The secret rules that govern our digital lives. Cambridge University Press.
What software is Weibo? php Chinese website homepage. (2022, September 8). Retrieved April 10, 2023, from https://www.php.cn/faq/495818.html
Zignani, M., Gaito, S., & Rossi, G. P. (2018, June 15). Follow the “mastodon”: Structure and evolution of a decentralized online social network. Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and social media. Retrieved April 14, 2023, from https://ojs.aaai.org/index.php/ICWSM/article/view/14988