After attending Michael Anti’s talk at the Foreign Correspondents Club in Japan, I came away feeling he had focussed a little too much on the impact of Twitter given that so few people use the service in China. There are only 100,000 users according to Michael, though I'm not sure of his source. I mean sure, Twitter is often an excellent bridge between English speaking Chinese and the rest of the world during breaking events, but it’s not revolutionary given the comparatively small user base. Add to that the fact that information often gets out via other means anyway, even if they are less immediate.
Here’s the audio from the talk attached below. I didn’t intend to put it online, but I’m curious to hear what some some of my old comrades from the China blogosphere have to say. Excuse the poor quality. UPDATE: Martyn William has posted video of the talk. [Pt 1, 2, 3, 4]
Download MP3 [59MB]
I’ve admired Michael’s efforts to spread China-related news over the years. He was one of the better sources of news on Twitter during the Xinjiang riots, right up there with @melissakchan and @malcolmmoore. But I’m not sure if Twitter deserves the accolades Michael heaped upon it during this talk, especially now that it’s been blocked. From what I can see from my limited viewpoint here in Japan, I’d say that domestically Twitter is practically invisible now. I like Michael’s optimism though. He sites a number of ‘good news’ Twitter accomplishments like Amoiist’s desperate tweet from prison that eventually led to his release, or the tweet of Liu Xiaobo’s wife Liu Xia who used her iPad to tell the world that she had been forced to pose for pictures shopping when she was in fact still under house arrest.
But is there reason to be so optimistic about the power of Twitter in China?
How many arrests go untweeted in China? How many arrests are made because of tweets? (See Wang Yi’s recent arrest which international media has now all but forgotten.) How many arrests come as a result of monitored BBS posts?
One of the ballsiest voices in China is Han Han, who chooses a blog as his platform. To my knowledge, he’s not on Twitter.
But happy-ending Twitter stories from China have legs, especially among Twitter users who like to pat their SNS of choice on the back thus putting medium before message. I’ve been guilty of this myself more than a few times. New technologies are always somewhat meta in this way. Blogging was the same.
In the second half of his talk Michael makes a great point about the failings of the Japanese media to communicate mainstream news to Chinese readers. He says many Chinese readers who hope to know what Japan thinks often don’t have more than only far right media which ostensibly gets translated because it’s more outrageous. He spoke a little of the Senkaku/Diaoyu controversy as well.
Here are two other media reports of Michael Anti’s talk below, both of which focused mostly on his criticism of Japanese media, rather than what I thought was a somewhat skewed view of Twitter in China. Please check out the audio from the talk and let me know what you think.
- The Diplomat: Chinese Blogger Blasts Japan Media
- AFP: Japan, China should just chat together, says blogger