With the rise of social media in China has come an influx of social campaigns. Just as sites such as Facebook and Twitter have facilitated social movements, so have Chinese social media platforms. Recent years have seen a rise in the power of social media to raise awareness and support a variety of social causes by quickly and effectively reaching vast audiences.
Celebrities are at the forefront of some campaigns, using their visibility and influence to spread awareness about their cause. In 2013, the environmental group WildAid collaborated with a group of Chinese celebrities to spearhead the #I’m Finished with Fins campaign against shark fin soup on the social media platform Weibo. Everyone posed with their hands over their mouths to signify that they will be boycotting shark fin soup.
Combining celebrity status with the ease of social media proved powerful, as shown before with Mailman’s analysis of great social media engagement and interaction. Hundreds of thousands of Weibo users joined in the campaign by uploading photos of themselves covering their mouths with the now-viral #I’m Finished with Fins hashtag. The hashtag’s page has almost 7.5 million views as the photos from both celebrities and netizens spread across Weibo from users to users in a rippling effect. The result? A huge success. Along with the Chinese government’s increased support of banning shark fin soup, consumption is said to have decreased by 50 to 70%.
Tennis star Li Na has also harnessed her star power for a cause. On Weibo, Li Na has been using a #Health is More Important Than Rankings hashtag with Olay to encourage and promote the importance of a healthy lifestyle this June, and she just posed topless to support the Pink Ribbon breast cancer awareness campaign. The famous and loved athlete’s topless – though censored – photos have netizens excitedly retweeting, commenting on, and sharing her breast cancer campaign posts. Needless to say, with over 23 million followers on Weibo and even more fans around the world, Li Na has directly reached a huge audience by utilizing social media.
Another influence in the social media platforms is the news industry, as shown by Chinese newspaper Southern Weekly’s report last November on ivory, “Blood Ivory”. Southern Weekly brought the ivory trade, a topic lost in the niche of environmentalists in China, literally to the front page. The report was then posted on the Southern Weekly Weibo with the first line reading: “China is the world’s biggest ivory market, yet 2/3 Chinese citizens don’t know ivory is obtained by killing elephants.”
Southern Weekly’s Weibo post and the full report on its online news site was then rapidly shared across Weibo and other social platforms as netizens turned their attention to the ivory trade. The shocking report jumpstarted conversations throughout Chinese social media, as discussions and thousands of comments on the “Blood Ivory” article popped up on Weibo posts, on popular forums such as Tianya, and on other various websites.
Chinese social media has proven its ability to facilitate social movements, raise awareness, and get people to rally for causes. Recent issues include individuals protesting Yulin city’s annual dog eating festival. With high-profile users on Weibo, including celebrities such as actress Yang Mi, posting about their disapproval, netizens have once again taken to retweeting, commenting on, and sharing posts about causes that they and their favorite celebrities support. Yang Mi’s Weibo post, retweeted almost 200 thousand times, is yet another example of the power of social media in China as a platform for social campaigns.
These grassroots campaigns and personal pledges of support have paved the way for a new era of social causes in China to spread via social media. However, with the Chinese government still free to censor content with their Great Wall, not every campaign will necessarily share the same success. The government actively supported ending consumption of shark fin soup and ivory, but it is hard to tell how far they will let activism spread, depending on the cause.