BEIJING (AP) — A widely read microblog written by the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai and known for its sometimes tongue-in-cheek comments about China's social and political issues was inaccessible Friday.
Sina Weibo, China's most popular microblog site that hosts the consulate's account, said it could be a technical glitch, an explanation the company has given in the past in cases where censorship was at work.
The Shanghai account had more than 80,000 followers before it became inaccessible Thursday. It has in the past touched on topics the government considers sensitive.
On June 4, the 23rd anniversary of the student movement on Tiananmen Square in 1989, when online censorship kicked into high gear for the taboo topic, the Shanghai consulate's blog remarked that history could not be discussed that day. A day later, it said: "Yesterday is finally gone."
Also in June, when a Chinese newspaper called for response from the U.S. embassy after a senior environmental official criticized its popular Twitter feed that tracks pollution in smoggy Beijing, the Shanghai consulate posted a shushing emoticon. "Keep your voice low. People are still sleeping," read the posting. The comment later disappeared, though it was unclear why.
U.S. diplomats have boosted their public diplomacy through social media. The U.S. government has an active presence on Chinese social media sites; many U.S. officials in China have individual Weibo pages, and the embassy in Beijing and consulate departments update their own sites with remarks by American officials, press releases and videos.
Using platforms such as Sina Weibo lets diplomats directly engage the Chinese public without having to go through the state media, said David Bandurski, editor of the Hong Kong-based China Media Project website.
And the U.S. consulates in Shanghai and Hong Kong have stood out for their use of playful language filled with trendy online expressions by Chinese web users to chime in on hot social and political topics in China.
Attempts to access the Shanghai consulate's microblog on Sina Weibo Friday were met with an error message that said the account is "temporarily unavailable." The results for searches of the consulate's microblog name were censored with a message that said: "According to relevant laws, regulations and policies... search results were not displayed."