@beidaijin | This article was first published by ChinaChange.org Total control that leaves no stone unturned. [caption id="attachment_2598" align="alignleft" width="300"] A MOF spokesman states, “In Cina internet is open….” but the comment section of the official post is closed (ChinaChange)[/caption] In November, 2014, 163.com suddenly announced that it would close down its microblog service, or Weibo. Three months ago,qq.com announced that it would not add new features to its microblog service. It is unsure how long qq’s microblog will last before it also closes down. Sohu CEO Zhang Chaoyao (张朝阳) no longer uses his own Sohu microblog account to interact with users. Chen Tong (陈彤), Sina’s vice president, left Sina with a group of key personnel, and this was regarded as the fall of the biggest internet portal in China. “Big V” Ning Caishen (宁财神) announced that he would sell his account [with 6 million followers] for only 50 yuan, or about $8, and it’s hard not to taste the dour self-mockery of the popular online opinion leader. Such is the devastated scene of social media in China backed by each major internet portal website and used by millions of Chinese. Weibo is dying. Of what? Statistics from January, 2014, show that the number of Weibo users in 2013 declined by 27,830,000 in 2013 compared to the number of users at the end of 2012, and the level of activity had also plummeted. It is reported that 80 percent of the 500 million Weibo users have hardly ever logged in. The number of daily active users has fallen from 60 million in mid-2013 to 25 million in the beginning of June, 2014. While we cannot verify these numbers for the time being, published statistics have sufficiently shown that the popularity of Weibo has been declining since 2013. Some people think the fall of Weibo is due to companies failing to find the right business model, and others believe that the rise of WeChat drew users away from Weibo. Still others are of the opinion that excessive advertisements, marketing accounts and “chicken-soup” postings diluted valuable information. These might all be valid causes, but more important causes seem to lie elsewhere. Weibo have never been a pure social media platform; it has always been a form of media, and its vitality arose from disseminating and commenting on public events, known as User Generated Content (UGC). But suppression of free expression is a political reality in China, and the State Internet Information Office’s (SIIO) censorship mechanism has been strangling the Weibo. A user becomes a criminal, punishable by law, when a rumor is shared over 500 times, and reposting a “rumor” can be a liability too. One constantly hits on “sensitive words” like hitting on nail snags. Posts are frequently deleted by behind-the-scene censors, not to mention suspension or deletion of accounts altogether. More and more people join the ranks of the “Reincarnation Party,” people who come back to Weibo with new accounts after their original accounts were shut down. One can be summoned by police for interrogation, or detained, or even tried and sentenced, for a single Weibo posting. Fear puts a damper on a user’s enthusiasm, if not killing it altogether. To divert users’ attention away from sensitive public events while maintaining Weibo’s vitality, service providers have resorted to cheap entertainment, resulting in a large number of quality users leaving Weibo. Both the quantity and quality of UGC have declined and there is no sign of a reversal. Nowadays even the comment section is often closed up either by the censor or by the users themselves. Last November, Xinhua reported that SIIO held a conference on the management of online comment. During the conference, 29 websites, including Xinhuanet.com, People.com.cn, Sina.com, Sohu.com, 163.com and qq.com, signed a pledge, promising that they would “discipline” online comments. The Deputy Director of SIIO Ren Xianliang (任贤良) said, “[We must] use the law to manage online comments in order to direct public opinion online, build an eco-system for online public opinion, to legalize the rules of cyberspace. These are an integral part of governing the Internet according to the law. And to govern the Internet according to the law, we must put halters on the comment sections.” Caijing’s Sina Weibo account attached a photo image of the Pledge when posting news about the conference. The Pledge contains 18 categories of information that cannot be allowed. Below is a brief analysis of each of the 18 categories.