Social media is not only about social network, they are also powerful media. A recent accident happened in China showed how influential social media can be.
“A collision between two high-speed trains on July 23rd near the coastal city of Wenzhou not only killed at least 35 people but also unleashed a torrent of online criticism of the network and the railway bureaucracy, ” as was written on The Economist’s news feature “Interrogating the Party” on July 25th. What happened is that all the people suddenly began to “twitter” and comment and forward news and pictures and videos. I’m a user of Sina weibo (China’s Twitter) and I could feel the influence of this news in real time. Suddenly and out of nowhere, a torrent of anger came burst out. All my friends are either expressing their care about this event and/or expressing their criticism on government. Even I could feel the huge social pressure of millions of people suddenly simultaneously becoming skeptical of and criticizing our government. Waves after waves of concern and criticisms were overwhelming for any person who didn’t care about this accident in the first place.
First people called rail bureau officials to be sacked; after sacking two government officials, people called for an explanation of the cause of accident; after Wang Yongping, the bureau spokesperson held a news conference to explain why they buried carriages after the accident in very unprofessional language, the “social anger” reached its peak. Then the Ministry of Railway stopped burying the carriages and sacked its spokesperson.
Here is another statistic: within 12 hours of the accident, there were 2 million “tweets” about the accident (From Sina News Center http://www.sina.com.cn). Although with strict censorship, internet (social media in particular) is leveling the ground of information for ordinary people. Such transparency of information is unprecedented before the advent of social media and will further the cause of freedom of speech in China.