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Friday 19 December  
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 - 1:47pm | 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.


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