Qiyi Glacier Along Silk Road

Michael Silberman, Greenpeace's Global Director of Digital Innovation, recently visited our offices here in Beijing and wrote a great piece on what he learned about digital campaigning -- with Chinese characteristics:

For being the world's most populous and fastest growing economy, it's astonishing how little the rest of the world seems to know about How Things Work in China. That's just one of the reasons why I was so enthusiastic about visiting China for the first time.

China represents, in many ways, ground zero for our world's greatest challenges – from transitioning our planet to a clean energy economy, to feeding our growing population with safe foods and sustainable agriculture, to ensuring that we can produce clothes and other necessities without the toxic chemicals that destroy communities.

For any campaigner working on these issues, China matters. So it should come as no surprise that Greenpeace East Asia is growing like crazy.

In talking with our digital campaigners he discovered a "culture of organizing that works with fast-growing communities, is highly creative, and innovating rapidly — especially when it comes to using social networks."

Popular social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are blocked in China (see Great Firewall of China), but home grown, China-specific, alternatives are flourishing. Sina Weibo (or just Weibo), a Twitter-like network, has over 300 million users in China and average usage seems higher than Twitter. While Twitter counted 10 million tweets during the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics, Weibo reported 119 million. Like Twitter, Weibo has been used in many community and social change campaigns. A Chinese version of Facebook called Renren currently has around 160 million users, a 30% increase over the previous year.

In a recent study of Chinese social media use, 91% of respondents reported using a social media site in the past 6 months. In the United States, that number is 67% and 30% of Japanese report using a social media site in the past six months. The authors point out that Chinese value word of mouth more than in other countries because most public information is official, state-sanctioned, and distrusted. This may further empower social network communications which are largely person to person. 

Head to the original post to read the full piece, including the case study "public pressure changes air quality monitoring in Beijing".

Image © Greenpeace / John Novis