Popular angst rock group Radiohead has just joined Sina Weibo, China’s popular microblogging service with an estimated 140 million users and rising. Their account, @radiohead, has attracted nearly 70,000 followers after a single post. The hardly-inspiring first message, posted on July 1st, which simply reads “testing the weibo…”, has already been forwarded, or retweeted, over 10,000 times. Sina has confirmed that it is indeed the band, and they’ve received a renzheng (认证), similar to Twitter’s “verified” badge.
While Weibo already sees the likes of high-profile English-speaking stars like Tom Cruise and Bill Gates, Radiohead are the first from a creative group (Japanese art star Takashi Murakami commands 80,000 followers and posts in Chinese with the help of an assistant). The medium is ideally suited for creative types, with embedded video, photos and music.
Of particular concern is how Radiohead plan to engage their audience under Weibo’s system of censorship, reportedly managed each day by “hundreds” of censors. While most users don’t experience the effects of censorship day to day, Radiohead has a history of criticizing the Chinese government by talking about the most sensitive issues.
They performed in the Tibetan Freedom Concert, a series of festivals in the late 90’s supporting Tibetan independence, and they opened their 2008 world tour by placing Tibetan flags around their performance space. More recently, they blogged about Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo, who is serving 11 years in jail on charges of “inciting subversion of state power”. Liu played a key role in penning Charter 08, a document that, amog other things, called for an end to one-party rule in China.
The move marks a new milestone for China’s fastest-growing social network, which plans to release an English language version by the end of the year. There’s evidence that some of
Radiohead’s followers may be fake accounts, but the huge influx of followers shows their strong popularity in China.