Ten officials receive prizes for their departments' work in running government Weibo accounts at the 2011 Government Weibo Annual Summit, on December 12. Photo: Sina.com
Official government Weibo (microblog) accounts are becoming more common. According to the newly released 2011 Sina Report on Government Weibo, by the end of October 2011, the number of government Weibo accounts had increased to 18,132, nearly 33 times more in 2010. How will government accounts affect communications between the Chinese public and government? Publicity officials and experts from several provinces and cities across China shared their opinions on these issues at the 2011 Government Weibo Annual Summit held by Sina Weibo Monday.
Government learns to listen
Zhu Huaxin, secretary-general of people.com.cn's department of public opinion monitoring
Government Weibo accounts are a new means of communication between the government and public. They can ensure the voices of the public are heard, help solve socially controversial cases, and ease social anxiety. Currently, all the 31 provinces and four municipalities have opened official Weibo accounts. It is not necessary that all government organs open their own microblogs, but at least those concerned with people's livelihood should use Weibo to listen to the public.
Some hold that since the founding of the PRC, many public voices have been swallowed up due to a lack of means of expression. But now Weibo provides a platform to make voices from the grass roots heard.
Compared to other government-public means of interaction such as government blogs and public affair hotlines, the probability of public voices attracting attention from government departments is much greater on Weibo because of the direct and quick information exchange. The rise of governmental Weibo shows that government-public communications have entered a new stage.
A good example is @basong langwang, the account of Du Shaozhong, deputy director of Beijng Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau. Du has discussed Beijng air quality issues, especially the governmental attitude toward PM 2.5 measurements, with netizens on Weibo.
Although he received some abusive comments, most followers of Du's account speak highly of his sincere attitude in being open to the public. The Chinese public needs the government to listen to them. We should have confidence in the prospects of government Weibo.
Government Weibo represents a new kind of administrative ability. To some extent, new technology is also the driving force of governmental work. Using government Weibo accounts, we could extend the Party's thoughts to the Internet. Weibo shouldn't be a blind area for the Party.
Contending with false rumors
Zhao Feng, chief of the press center of Beijing Municipal Security Bureau
Currently, most emergency cases are initially discovered and spread on Weibo and the mainstream of public opinion toward the incidents is also first formed on Weibo. That's why we need government Weibo accounts to clarify information and lead public opinions in the right direction.
The Raffles City Beijing accident this February is a prominent example. Rumors around the accident started from a piece on Weibo which claimed a foreign man was shot to death, and a photo of the dead man was enclosed. Most netizens, they spread the news by reposting without knowing the truth. It is a rule on Weibo that news is spread first and tested later.
We talked to the netizens who initially posted the news. They were not real witnesses of the accident. The one that was closest to the accident was 300 meters away. He mistakenly imagined the sound of the dead man rolling down the elevator was a gun shot.
The importance of government Weibo is shown in such cases. @Ping'an Beijing acts as a powerful and credible source to contend against fake news. An interesting thing is that when we posted the information we have, many of the followers begin to seek evidence to support us.
We believe every follower is our supervisor and an information provider. We use true information to clear their doubts, while they provide the information they know to us. They are our biggest sources.
Protest taught us lesson
Li Xiuke, head of Internet supervision division of Publicity Department of Liaoning Provincial Party Committee
Compared to other provinces and cities, Liaoning was late in opening a government Weibo account. As everyone knows, there was a public protest over a PX (para-xylene) project in Dalian on August 14, which made the Liaoning provincial government realize our deficiencies in swift response to public opinion.
The provincial government has issued an administrative order, demanding those departments whose work is closely related to people's livelihood open Weibo accounts. One of our prominent features is that we pay attention to guiding public opinion through joint efforts of Sina Weibo and the government, highlighting moral role models.
Guo Mingyi, a model worker of the Angang steel group, who opened his account this March, has now attracted nearly 4 million followers. After this, we have encouraged more local role models to open accounts. Now the Liaoning Publicity Department has planned to organize another 100 role models to open Weibo accounts this year to further spread positive values and set an example for the public.
Reaching out to young
Sun Jinsong, deputy director of the Publicity Department of Xicheng district, Beijing
The Xicheng district was the first district to open a government Weibo account in Beijing. Last year, Beijing made the decision to integrate the Xuanwu district into Xicheng, which aroused public outcry within Xuanwu, particularly on the Internet. Netizens uploaded a self-made hip-hop song Xuanwu Forever to show their disapproval and mock the decision.
We tried all possible means to correct the public opinion, including TV programs and press conference, but found it hard to reach a certain group of people. These people grew up in an Internet era. They act in an online virtual world and are barely affected by traditional media.
This pushed us to think how we can use new media to promote government decisions and lead public opinion. So we introduced an online discussion system, demanding every official participate online to communicate with netizens and collect their opinion.
Governmental departments shouldn't move blindly onto Weibo. They should respond to public opinion based on their job function and obligation. Weibo is by no means a second bureau for letters and calls. It cannot solve all social problems, but is only a new channel to listen to public opinion and help governments lead public opinion.