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China's "Twitter," Sina Weibo, to launch English version

Sina Weibo's English version would be aimed at foreign users, but subject to Chinese government censorship of "sensitive" content.

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A woman works online in her cubicle at an office in Beijing. China's homegrown social media sites like Sina Weibo are booming thanks to their better knowledge of the world's largest Internet market, and the censorship stifling foreign rivals like Facebook, Twitter, and Google-owned YouTube. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

Chinese internet portal Sina Corp. is planning to launch an English version of its popular Weibo microblog service — complete with Chinese government-style censorship — in an apparent attempt to compete with U.S.-based Twitter.

Sina said Thursday that the English-language version of its Weibo microblog would be aimed at foreign users, but would be subject to Chinese government content regulations that require censors to remove material on politically “sensitive” topics, the Associated Press reports.

“The service is aimed at overseas users, but we don’t target users from a particular country,” company spokesman Mao Taotao told the AP. “As a Chinese internet company, we will continue to abide by Chinese laws and regulations."

No launch date has yet been set for Sina Weibo's English-language service.

China blocks access to Twitter and other foreign social networking sites, including Facebook and YouTube, due to government fears that it could be used to foment political dissent.

This has provided Sina Weibo with a vast competitive advantage in China, and it has attracted 140 million registered users. About 10 percent of those users are outside China.

But Sina Weibo’s censorship requirements would put it at a disadvantage among foreign users, the Wall Street Journal reports. The English version is also aiming to attract English-speaking foreigners in China.

The Chinese government is particularly paranoid about calls for protests like those that swept through the Middle East and North Africa. For example, fearing the possibility of a “Jasmine Revolution,” internet censors blocked all references to the word “jasmine,” including jasmine tea, a common drink in China.

Weibo has at least 100 employees monitoring content 24 hours a day, according to a report in Forbes magazine.

"Introducing an English microblog service is an important step in Sina's process of internationalization," Song Jianwu, head of the journalism school at the China University of Political Science and Law, told the state-run Xinhua news service.

"Sina's English microblog will be a chance for China to provide the world with a new platform for the expression of public opinions," Song said.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/china/110609/china-internet-blog-sina-weibo-english