Weibo -- China’s most popular microblogging site, owned by the media giant Sina Corp. (NASDAQ:SINA) -- officially expanded into Thailand on Wednesday. Currently, there are 80,000 Weibo users in Thailand, most of them ethnic Chinese living there. With this expansion, the Weibo Thailand joint venture between Sina, based in Shanghai, and Jiaranai Entertainment Co. Ltd., based in Bangkok, hopes to double the number of users in 2013.
Weibo Thailand will allow the exchange of information between the two societies, which have many cultural similarities. In the last few years, Thai dramas have been very popular in China. As a result, some Thai actors and entertainers are already on Weibo. Mario Mauer, a famous model and actor, uses Weibo to communicate with his fans in China, and he has more than 800,000 followers.
“In the future, many more Thai stars, luminaries and organizations will be on Weibo to communicate with the Chinese people,” said Guo Rui, Jiaranai’s managing director. Even Thailand Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has announced plans to join Weibo.
Another reason for the expansion is for both countries to capitalize on the large number of Chinese tourists visiting Thailand each year, which is projected to be more than 3.8 million in 2013. Since Twitter is not allowed in China, Weibo will provide a platform for Thai businesses to reach out to Chinese tourists planning to visit Thailand.
Of course, Weibo has had a dark reputation at times because of content censorship by the Chinese authorities. With this recent international expansion, it’s worth asking whether content generated by Thai users, or indeed any foreign users, will be censored as well. Weibo censorship is nearly real-time and may employ a workforce of more than 4,000, according to an MIT Technology Review account of a study by Rice University's Dan Wallach and others.
If the Chinese government wishes to extend its iron fist to Thai users on Weibo, it might need to put out some more job postings, perhaps for bilingual speakers of Chinese and Thai.
Sophie is a graduate of Northwestern University. She covers the emerging markets in Southeast Asia, with a particular interest in foreign investment in the region....