Monday, July 9, 2012

Twitter for Good in Shanghai

While waiting to meet a friend at a mall in Shanghai's Pudong district I briefly stopped by a small English language bookstore. Although Shanghai has mobile bookstores, there are reasons, such as quality, fakes, and selection, to buy books from more reputable dealers.

During my visit to the store, I noticed one section labeled "Chinese Related":

It contained a variety of books that did not seem to fit the category, but a book about Twitter in this row especially caught my attention:

"Twitter for Good: Change the World One Tweet at a Time" by Claire Diaz-Ortiz, who "lead[s] social innovation at Twitter", has been described:
As recent events in Japan, the Middle East, and Haiti have shown, Twitter offers a unique platform to connect individuals and influence change in ways that were unthinkable only a short time ago. In Twitter for Good, Claire Diaz Ortiz, Twitter’s head of corporate social innovation and philanthropy, shares the same strategies she offers to organizations launching cause-based campaigns. Filled with dynamic examples from initiatives around the world, this groundbreaking book offers practical guidelines for harnessing individual activism via Twitter as a force for social change.
Similar to how Facebook's popularity as a political tool in Taiwan likely caught the attention of mainland Chinese officials, the realization that Twitter allows individuals to join together and be a "force for social change" is likely at least part of the reason the online social networking service is now blocked in China.

So it could be expected that Twitter for Good would also be unavailable in China. But in addition to the bookstore I visited it is (currently) listed for sale on the Chinese online retail website 360buy and the Chinese online auction websites Paipai, and Taobao. It is also listed on Douban -- a Chinese social networking service website "allowing registered users to record information and create content related to movies, books, and music". However, no copies appear to be listed on several major online retailers for books such as Dangdang, 99 Online Bookstore, or China, despite those sites offering other books about Twitter such as Twitter Revolution. Regardless of whether or not there is a ban on Twitter for Good, it appears to be openly sold in China. Like the availability of other books about Twitter -- in English and Chinese -- it highlights the fuzziness of the line between what is and is not censored there.

Despite the Chinese government's concerns, there are signs that there are agencies with hopes for online social networking services in China -- particularly Sina Weibo. Unlike Twitter, Sina Weibo's ability and willingness to quickly censor its content per the Chinese government's desires provides a degree of control. This control combined with Sina Weibo's large reach can make it a attractive tool. For example, after an incident of a seriously injured girl being ignored by numerous passersby government officials reached out through Weibo:
The Political and Legislative Affairs Committee of the CPC Guangdong Committee on Tuesday published a message on Weibo calling for citizens to make suggestions on how the law could better assist those who offer help to people in danger.

The message read: "Please stop the coldness. Guangdong province is going to hold a discussion to criticize the behavior of leaving people in mortal danger out of indifference, and to advocate the spirit to lend a hand to those who need help. Your advice may be written into the province's legislative rules."
Maybe those Chinese officials could learn something useful from Twitter for Good to improve their efforts on Sina Weibo. In that sense, maybe Twitter for Good is indeed "Chinese Related".

Regardless, although Diaz-Ortiz would likely appreciate her books being read by more people in China (especially if the books are not unlicensed copies), she may prefer something even simpler that could also potentially aid positive social change in China -- unblocking Twitter.

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