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Friday 25 April  
FreeWeibo app in action on the streets of Shanghai © Will photography for RNW
Hilversum, Netherlands
Hilversum, Netherlands

New app frees China’s biggest social network from censorship

Published on : 29 October 2013 - 2:47pm | By (Will photography for RNW)
More about:


  • Sina Weibo is China’s most popular social media platform
  • 1 in 3 Chinese is a registered Sina Weibo user, which is around 4,500,000 people (est)
  • 55% of Weibo users are young adults (20-30)
  • China is at the bottom of the freedom of the net index (source: Freedom House)

Free speech
RNW defends and promotes free speech through independent journalism and the use of new media. We also create a safe space for young people worldwide to form opinions and tell their stories. We engage with a young generation who are unable or are prevented from doing this for themselves.

On our new English-language site you can find top stories from RNW’s target countries.

Tweets on politically sensitive topics in China are routinely censored. The new FreeWeibo app unblocks them.

Disclosing tweets that have been censored by Chinese government. Using cutting-edge technology to promote free speech. FreeWeibo does the trick.

FreeWeibo is the work of a China-based American developer who works under the alias Martin Johnson. In October 2012, Johnson started FreeWeibo. But because the site was quickly blocked, its audience is restricted to those in China who can circumvent the Great Firewall: 10,000 tech-savvy visitors a day.

An unblockable app
Now Johnson, who wants to stay anonymous for security reasons, hopes to broaden his audience. “If we want to make a real difference, we need to reach out to people who have no idea yet of what is being censored,” he says. Johnson believes the app can “create awareness of what is censored, and how much”.

Chinese censors
With support from RNW’s tech team, he developed a FreeWeibo iOS app with a content feed that cannot easily be blocked by Chinese censors, and which only Apple itself can decide to remove from the Apple Store.

RNW was happy to support Johnson’s mission. “Our organisation supports local initiatives that contribute to free speech,” Editor-in-chief William Valkenburg says. “We don’t only produce content for China ourselves, we also create channels for open debate. Without a space to discuss and share information, free speech loses its value.”

The FreeWeibo app can be downloaded from the App Store. Visit FreeWeibo for more information.


Michael Bridlington 3 November 2013 - 3:00pm / UK

I agree with Keith that RNW is naive in publishing this story. And, with Apple's policy in China, what's to bet that the authorities put pressure on Apple to take it out of the Appstore.

j forsythe 1 November 2013 - 5:35pm / canada

Now the real change in Red China will finally begin. The blood-thirsty Chinese Communist Party has murdered eighty million of its own people since 1949 and by controlling all forms of media, the CCP has been able to keep its people completely in the dark concerning the millions of heinous atrocities that it has committed. The CCP since 1999,has been attempting the genocide of tens of millions of innocent Falun Gong practitioners by the use of torture, slavery, organ harvesting and murder. Hopefully, soon those responsible for these fiendish acts will have to stand trial. Just my understanding, thank you.

Keith Perron 30 October 2013 - 4:34pm

This is all fine and dandy. But for the past 2 years now China has been working on a system that would also censor phone apps. Do you really think it wise to make this public? All you've done is give the censors more information on what people could do. I can tell you that within 1 year this will also be blocked. Maybe even sooner. For many years VPNs were used in China to access websites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others. But since the beginning of 2013 many VPNs don't work anymore, and more are going down all the time. What you did by posting this story would be like Radio Free Asia publishing frequencies they use for China that change often. The only way RFA gets into China is by using frequencies along with the published ones. They change relay sites and frequencies. For stories like this the best thing is to keep them under the radar as much as possible and not blast them out.

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