Weibo considers real geographic location as Russia-Ukraine war discussions heat up

As the second talk between Russia and Ukraine ended with no cease-fire agreement, outside the warzone, public discussion in China’s digital space is heating up with Russian attacks against Ukraine intensifying over the past couple of days.

The heated online conversation has inevitably drawn in some Internet users to take advantage of the trending topics in exchange for personal traffic gains. It is reported some have been found spreading misinformation about the conflict by posting fake video clips on China’s largest microblogging site Weibo, including those from previous military exercises and even, from warfare video games.

As several such posts were soon picked up by some Chinese state media in recent days, Weibo has issued a statement on 4 March, saying the platform is considering introducing a “real geographic location” function for any posts and comments related to “significant events” in order to maintain a “healthy media dissemination environment”.

The statement adds that the platform would take user experience into consideration and would only enable real location for “specific users if necessary”. However, it didn’t define the range of “specific users”. Should the function be enabled, locations of domestic users can be as accurate to province or region, and for users outside China, only country of residence would be shown. In the meantime, the feature would be activated automatically for the time being and users cannot switch it on or off by themselves, according to Weibo.

At present, the feature has only applied to content related to Russia and Ukraine. Online discussions including keywords such as Russia, Ukraine, or Kyiv would trigger the “real geographic location” display, it explains.

The announcement soon stirred another wave of online debate. While it sees an overall welcoming voice, with some netizens pointing out this measure would “increase the cost of spreading fake news” and therefore, a good initiative to protect healthy online discussion around important issues. Others believe it would also prevent malicious comments on relations between China and Taiwan, a parallel that many have drawn since the war between Russia and Ukraine broke out.

However, as the feature is still undergoing internal trials, some have raised issues around precision after different locations were returned following several test posts. On the other hand, some have also cautioned that the measure could potentially put users’ privacy at risk, as the location is part of personal information.

Although under China’s latest Personal Information Protection Law, all collection and handling of personal data must obtain personal consent, Personal Information Security Specification provides the exception that when it comes to “public security, public health, and other public interests”, no consent needs to be obtained, which covers the recent conversation around the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Therefore, the platform is expected to deal with this matter more sensitively and thoroughly when the function is rolled out for wider use in the digital space.


Join our newsletter