Ai Weiwei: The Changing role of Social Media in China

The great firewall which blocked some influential social network sites, such as  Facebook, Twitter and Google+ in China, contributed a lot to the establishment of Chinese own version. Such as Ren Ren (Facebook liked site), Sina Weibo( microblog),etc. Sites like Fanfou : one of the first established microblogging services,  has been taken down by the Chinese Government due to reason of so-called ” disseminating of sensitive messages”.

Quoting from Habermas’ theory of “public sphere”, the flourishment of social network can also function as a new “digital public sphere” for people to exchange political ideas and enhance democracy. However, the theory of ” technology as a text” by Mackay also points out that technology itself can be a text that it is neutral, our human beings as operators also have the ability to encode and decode the text itself, meanwhile, the technology itself also has its own logic as the technological determinism theory points out.

To apply this to the Chinese social network, some features of social network sites have the potential to foster a “public sphere”, like the relatively freedom of speech and the immediacy of spreading information . For example , with the development of social media, more social problems can be discovered and solved by online citizens in China : Guo Meimei incident . Using the social media, it is more convenient  for Chinese citizens to accurately locate the problem and generate attention from  the mainstream.

However, it is also people who matters toward the usage of technology. There is a case study of Ai Wei wei which is worthwhile to analyze in the context of social network.

Ai Weiwei as a famous artist in China,  in his 50s , is living with his life and child in Beijing.  He came back to China after living a decade more in New York. Ai always makes his criticism about human rights in China and asks for political reformation.  After holding an investigation about the names of students who died in 2008 SiChuan earthquake, he posted all the name list on his blog and attracted lots of attention from society. The government immediately took control of this incident by shutting down all Ai Weiwei’s blogs and putting him into prison for 81 days without trail.  This is mainly about the quality of school building and government corruption that nobody from CCP wants to tell.

Social Media has gradually transformed the Chinese society, but more efforts are still needed.


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