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“China’s Twitter” Is More About Jokes And Fashion Tips And Less About Sharing Hard News

Twitter might boast more than 200 million users, but Sina Weibo, often referred to as the “Twitter of China,” is fast catching up, with 140 million users. But whereas Twitter is most often used to share news, Sina Weibo is used more for sharing entertainment, perhaps because of news censorship.

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Twitter might boast more than 200 million users, with over 70% tweeting from outside the U.S., but Sina Weibo is fast catching up, with 140 million users and 10 million new accounts added each month.

The latter service, often referred to as the “Twitter of China” (much like the Facebook copycats) is considered by many to be a knockoff of the microblogging platform. Yet while there are many similarities between Twitter and Sina Weibo, the services are actually being used in very different ways, according to new research by HP Labs. “When compared to a global social network such as Twitter,” HP’s report reads, “there are significant differences in the content shared in China.”

One of the more significant differences between sharing on the two networks is that Sina is used for entertainment, whereas Twitter is more so used to share news, according to HP Labs, which spent 30 days studying Sina Weibo. “In China, people tend to use Sina Weibo to share entertainment-type content such as jokes, images, and videos,” the report says. “In contrast, prior HP research shows that trending topics on Twitter have more to do with current events than entertainment.”

This trend is especially the case when studying the top retweeted users on either network. On Sina Weibo, the top 10 users include providers of fashion tips, music, jokes, and horoscopes. Stretched to the top 20, and the trend continues, with users such as (based on translations) “Silly Jokes,” “Funny Jokes Countdown,” “Good Music,” and “Global Music.”

If Sina Weibo’s top 10 is the Perez Hilton of China, then Twitter’s top 10 is the Tom Brokaw. Top retweeted users Stateside include CNN, aggregator Breaking News, and The New York Times. In the top 20, the trend of news sharing becomes even more apparent, with accounts such as the Huffington Post, Sky News, BBC World, Reuters, El Pais, La Patilla, The Washington Post, CBS News, and more.

“The consistent trend-setters on Sina Weibo are not media organizations,” the report says. “Instead they are unverified accounts acting as discussion forums and a platform for users to share funny pictures, jokes and stories.” (The Financial Times attributes this to “the tight censorship of China’s traditional media.”)

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Still, HP Labs is hesitant to call this an absolute trend. “It is important to note that the differences in behavior between the two user bases are relative,” says Bernardo Huberman, director of HP’s Social Computing lab. “The study doesn’t suggest that news-sharing does not occur on Sina Weibo, because it certainly does. However, our experiment does show that this type of behavior was relatively less common than on Twitter during the trial period.”

[Image: Flickr user TRiver]

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.

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