Summary:

The curious case of the missing citizen news site. Where is the new service that China’s Twitter-beating microblog operator launched to give news organisations anonymous tips?

Shanghai skyline, China
photo: Robert S. Donovan

Another day, another weird thing happening with Sina Weibo.

This morning, we came across this story on China Internet Watch about a new weibo platform launched by Sina called Weibo Expose.

The platform, created by Sina in cooperation with over 70 media organizations nationwide, allowed users to easily submit news tips and images to media in a particular location. It even allowed an option for anonymous submission, and promised to protect users’ identities.

But the service, which is supposed to be here, seems to have disappeared, despite the fact that it was launched just a day ago. As of this writing, all that appears is a blank white page.

Interestingly, many Chinese news reports about the platform’s launch also appear to have been deleted. Links to stories onTechwebNetease and Hexun result in 404 errors, and a story about the platform on Phoenix News now redirects to that site’s homepage. Baidu and Google Cache, however, reveal that there were indeed stories on these portals earlier (for example, here’s a Baidu cached version of the Phoenix News piece). But stories on some smaller portals remain up as of this writing (for example: thisthis, and this). Oddly enough, I can’t find any traces of a story about the platform’s launch on Sina’s own news platforms.

So what is going on here? Has the platform collapsed under the weight of too many excited users? Is there some kind of bug?

It’s too early to be sure, but the fact that news stories about the platform’s launch have apparently been deleted from China’s biggest news portals sure makes it feel like the service was taken down intentionally, and that traces of its existence are currently being scrubbed from the internet.

Given that it as an anonymous news reporting tool, I can’t say I’m surprised. It’s possible Sina received instructions from the government to take the service down. That would also explain why news portals have removed the story from their sites, as if the government really did get involved, news portals would likely also have received takedown notices.

The platform, which would have connected users to local media outlets across China, although apparently Sina hadn’t yet made arrangements in Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, Qinghai, and Tibet. It allowed the anonymous submission of information and images to more than seventy news outlets, and was also optionally tied to Weibo, so users could simultaneously make a weibo post about their news submission if they chose.

If it truly allowed for anonymity — which isn’t a given in China’s internet environment regardless of what Sina says — the service could have been a boon to whistleblowers and watchdogs wishing to report government and commercial malfeasance to the media.

» This article originally appeared on Tech In Asia, and is reproduced by paidContent with permission.

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This article originally appeared in Tech In Asia.

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