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How "public" is Weibo?

While Internet giants like Twitter and Google champion free speech, the US listing document for Chinese microblogging platform Weibo is littered with 56 pages of warnings on the risks of operating in a country which seeks to control information.

Despite being one of China’s most-visited websites, and analysts are watching to see if Weibo closes way low. That’s because of users like Lixin Huang.  He’s one of 130-million active users the website claims as its customer base. But he’s not exactly what you’d call “active.” 

“I used it sometime last year when my friends were using it,” he says. Huang, a finance professor at Georgia State University in Atlanta, now uses WeChat.  It’s growing at three times the rate of Weibo.

That’s one reason Huang is skeptical  about today’s NASDAQ debut. Another big reason? Censorship. China’s government bans everything from sexual innuendo to political dissent on the Internet.  

“Censorship has already caused a chilling effect,” says Jason Ng, who wrote the book, Blocked on Weibo.  He says China’s crackdown on that type of chatter means the site’s not as much fun as when it debuted. 

Even so, Ng says it’s still the go-to place for China’s nationwide conversation. “Obviously investors recognize the value of having that sort of space.”

About the author

Jim Burress is a reporter for WABE in Atlanta.

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