Zhang Yaojie, a notable Chinese scholar and author, is suing Sina for deleting his Weibo microblog account and continuing to charge him the $1.61 a month fee for premium service, as noted by the Global Times.
Zhang isn’t the first Weibo user to have his account shut down, and he won’t be the last. Still, he alleges that Sina wronged him by blocking him without warning. Interestingly, his account on rival microblogging platform Tencent Weibo is still working, even though he has posted openly political commentary on it.
“I understand that the service provider [Sina] sometimes has to delete some posts and so I try to only repost other people’s entries, but they still shut down my account without any explanation or notification,” Zhang told the Global Times.
Sina, which boasts 400 million users, has gained a reputation as having some of the most proactive censors supervising its platform. It is widely viewed as a powerful force in the public sphere, enough so that the government imposes a heavy hand of censorship to allow it to continue operating. The earliest microblogging services were shut down by the government, and the current crop exists with the tenuous approval of China’s leadership.
According to a blog post detailing the legal process, Sina has been notified of the lawsuit but has yet to respond. The court is expected to pursue mediation before moving forward with the case.
Zhang’s suit isn’t likely to have an impact on Sina’s financial situation, but it does make public the grudge that censored users hold against the company, which is often opaque about the steps it takes to block and filter Weibo content and accounts. The legal action could also affect the company if others followed suit and filed their own complaints.
Sina is still working out how to perform digital alchemy with Weibo and turn a profit off its large user base. It recently began serving up in-feed advertising and is working to develop the platform into a viable ecommerce destination. Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi and Mercedes-Benz have both tried their hand at selling their products on Weibo.
The pressure’s on for Sina, as rival Tencent is picking up pace with its WeChat messaging service. Tencent announced earlier this month that WeChat had passed 300 million users, gaining its latest 100 million in just four months.
Given that it’s quite a bit smaller than several of its competitors, Sina may seek to align itself with a partner. It recently began a partnership with Qihoo 360, and it is rumored to be in talks with both Alibaba and Baidu.
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