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China’s Rival Social Networks: Weixin vs. Weibo

The Weixin iPhone app
The Weixin iPhone appPhotograph by AP Photo

Even as they compete for market share, Sina’s Weibo and Tencent’s Weixin have evolved to fill very distinct user niches. Last week, amid the high-profile trial of disgraced politician Bo Xilai, the differences between China’s top two social-media services were clearly on display.

The Jinan Intermediate People’s Court took the unprecedented step of broadcasting select bits of the proceedings against Bo in real-time over Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging platform. Observers hotly debate whether the court’s messages published during the trial demonstrated increased openness or simply more sophisticated media control. Chinese celebrities, meanwhile, turned to Weibo to share their opinions on the trial, too. The service has amassed 500 million registered users since its launch in 2009 and has become a popular forum for airing grievances and tuning into public figures’ remarks on the news—subject, of course, to nearly real-time government censorship.