Weibo, one of China’s biggest social media platforms, said that it will start to block user links to all but a select number of websites within weeks, in an effort to fight fraud.

Why it matters: The clampdown is likely close off the majority of the internet to the platform’s users.

Details: Weibo, a Twitter-like microblogging platform, on Wednesday announced (in Chinese) that its link-shortening service will block all web sites except those included on a new whitelist. The company said it made the decision because the free service is heavily abused by scammers, as well as pornography and gambling sites.

  • Domains on the whitelist will include those owned by government bodies, licensed media, major web portals, and verified companies, according to the statement.
  • Weibo will decide which entities will be included on the list.
  • Selected companies must submit a business license, an ICP license which is mandatory to operate a website in China, as well as vow that the content on their websites are 100% legal.
  • Individuals who run personal blogs or websites will be excluded from the whitelist.

Context: Weibo has long had a problem with “black industry” bots spamming random Weibo posts in the comment threads. The bots lure users to sign up for gambling or pornography sites, or pyramid schemes.

  • Like Twitter’s service, Weibo automatically processes and shortens all shared links. Users cannot opt out of the link conversion service.
  • Since Weibo only allows links on the platform, domains that fail to sign up to Weibo’s approval list will be blocked starting next month.
  • In late March, the platform began to ban users (in Chinese) who shared links to e-commerce sites Taobao and to their followers. It ordered them to use a marketplace management tool called Weibo Xiaodian to list items.
  • Weibo Xiaodian shares a biweekly post publicly shaming accounts that break the rule.
  • Another Chinese social media Goliath, Tencent’s Wechat, has a lengthy history regulating external links. It is known for blocking competitors like Douyin, Taobao, Feishu, and even small rival messaging apps.

Wang Boyuan

Blogger and translator.