China’s Great Firewall has created a unique version of the internet that’s under constant surveillance and censorship, but an upcoming change to Weibo is taking things to the next level.
Reuters reports that Weibo will start showing the approximate locations of its users using IP addresses to combat “bad behavior” online. Placements appear on both profiles and posts.
A post announcing the move of Weibo’s main account had over 200 million views and replies already included location data, signaling that the feature has already gone into effect. Users cannot opt out of having their location displayed.
In its post, Weibo said the change aims to “reduce bad behavior such as impersonation of parties involved in hot topics, malicious misinformation, and traffic scraping, and to ensure authenticity and transparency of the broadcast content”.
“Weibo has always been committed to maintaining a healthy and orderly discussion atmosphere and protecting the rights and interests of users to quickly obtain real and effective information.”
The firewall is growing
Chinese citizens have long used VPNs and other privacy tools to access non-Chinese services or speak freely online and you can see why.
Although Weibo may say the changes are designed to promote a “healthy and orderly atmosphere” online, the fact that Chinese censors can and will monitor just about all content online – especially anything that goes viral – is probably the real reason for this change.
In a similar vein to the Panopticon, visibly showing users that the service knows where they are will lead to self-censorship, reducing pressure on Chinese censors to blanket an internet with hundreds of millions of users.
Recent lockdowns in Shanghai and neighboring areas have strained the ability of censors to remove content, perhaps prompting companies to add features that will naturally limit the truthfulness of their users.