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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

China’s Weibo Community Tweets On Boston Explosions

Yifan Zhu |
April 17, 2013 | 10:41 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

On April 15, the Chinese Weibo community was busy forwarding a message: a Chinese graduate student at Boston University had been missing after two bombs exploded near the finish line of this year’s Boston Marathon. 

One day later, Weibo, a twitter-like social media platform in China, helped spread the news that she was among the three victims who lost their lives in a tragedy that killed three and injured more than 100. 

Her name, despite request from her family to be kept private, remains in the top three on Weibo's search list: more than 15,000 search requests in the past two days. Her last Weibo tweet, in which she posted a picture of a bowl of bread with avocado, now stays forever. “My wonderful breakfast,” she tweeted along with the photo.

Underneath her last message, more than 22,000 people on Weibo have hit “reply” and left her a shared emoticon of mourning: a small, red candle with a yellow flame. The line of mourning gets longer every minute.

The girl, who was born in China’s northeastern city of Shenyang, came to Boston University in 2012 to pursue a Master’s degree in statistics. She and two friends were watching the race near the finish line when the bombs exploded, BU Today reported

One of her friends was seriously injured in the blasts, but is now in stable condition at Boston Medical Center. The third friend was unharmed, BU Today reported.

But she went missing after the Boston blasts. Her friends began asking for help via Weibo, as she never returned to the school. 

That message was getting forwarded rapidly until one tweet from a well-known blogger on Weibo on April 16 said that she had been confirmed as the third fatality in the Boston bombings. 

A couple of Chinese news agencies quickly picked up the news and it went viral.(see Weibo search results here) The Weibo community mourned her death by re-posting her photo and visiting her Weibo account. Her TOFEL instructor wrote a tweet saying she was remembered as a talented student from Beijing Institute of Technology.

Those concerned about the student got to know who she was, where she came from, what schools she attended and what she liked thanks to Weibo photos, tweets and comments posted by her friends.

But some criticized publishing the student's personal information while her family wanted it to remain unknown, saying it violated their privacy. Despite requests from the family, 26 Chinese media outlets have published that information, including some of the pillar agencies, such as Xinhua News Agency and CCTV, said Wen Hui Bao.

Weibo has been active in reporting on the Boston Marathon. A few hours after the first explosion, Chinese bloggers on Weibo were already re-posting a series of photos from the scene aggregated from Instagram. The video clip shot of the blast was also available.

The community mourned the most over a man who had lost the lower part of both his legs. Many people were also saddened over another man who was kneeling down to hug his girlfriend on ground. 

Wangshi, a Chinese real-estate mogul, made himself a one-day reporter on Weibo as he tweeted first-hand pictures he took at the race. Three of his photos got more than 25,000 re-tweets and 12,000 replies.

Another popular tweet on Weibo after the Boston explosion is a tweet about what Chinese media may learn from the way American media reported breaking news. Government news agencies have not commented on these tweets, but that tweet stays hot – with more than 50,000 re-tweets.

Reach Yifan's twitter here.



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