Behind “Occupy Obama’s Google+”

Posted in 2012 The Gnovis Blog  |  Tagged , , , , , , ,

Beginning on February 20th, Barack Obama’s Google+ page began to be filled with simplified Chinese characters. In other words, netizens in mainland China broke the Great Firewall and got the access to Google+ that should have been blocked. Every status of Obama’s Google+ was crowded with Chinese comments, reaching its 500 post limit within a short time.

“[T]hey talked about occupying the furniture and bringing snacks and soft drinks.” This is quoted from a BBC news article titled “Chinese ‘netizens’ inundate Obama’s Google+ page”. One might wonder why furniture, snacks and soft drinks. That’s one of the most interesting features that represents Chinese internet culture. Of course, there are no real furniture or snacks here, but rather these are all examples of internet jargon that the Chinese often use in online activities. When a status is posted, Chinese netizens are always proud to be the first one to leave a comment, probably because they regard it as an honor to be the quickest responder. These quick responders “grant” themselves a “sofa” so that they can sit comfortably and “watch” what is going on next. For the second and third ones to respond, who are not bad in the “who’s the quickest competition,” but less honorable than the first one, they can only “sit” on a “chair” or on the “floor.”
In addition to this interesting internet jargon, there are some cultural specialties that are worthy of discussion. Most international social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube, are blocked in mainland China for political reasons, which Chinese netizens are always unhappy about. Even though China also has its own social media, like Renren and Weibo, it cannot fulfill some Chinese netizens’ curiosity of wondering how those global social media networks work outside of China. They try to break the guard of the Great Firewall, but usually it does not work. Chinese netizens are always wondering: when can they truly be connected with the world?
Bearing the eagerness in mind, every time they smell the opportunities of “breaking out,” they just simply cannot hide their thrill and want to show off their capability of being “international.” Moreover, Chinese netizens have few chances to communicate directly with governmental or Party leaders even through social media. Therefore, when Google+ is accessible and the president of the USA is open to them, they definitely will not miss the chance to express their excitement. Some were talking about China-sensitive topics on the page, including freedom of speech, issues in the southwest of China, and the Wang Lijun incident. Even though the discussion of these topics is rather heated in China and, indeed, the Chinese government wants to control the discourse, as far as I am concerned, the netizens writing on Obama’s Google+ page were not as serious as expected. They seemed to be more interested in having fun with the “freedom” than complaining or satirizing.
One thing that needs to be noticed is that some developed countries are intending to utilize the enthusiasm of Chinese netizens to fabricate fake discourse, trying to stir up an intense atmosphere. Additionally, as I mentioned in my previous blog, there is a group of people called “Online Water Army,” which are hired by “Online PR Company” and work on posting frequent comments on social media in order to influence public opinion. Therefore, what we see online actually may not be the reality of current China. Be cautious about that!
However, we do hope that more transparency can be achieved in the future in terms of both the internet participation and social issues in China.
Key image from Global Times