Govt uses WeChat to stream­line dis­clo­sures

Ser­vice gives de­part­ments a way to quickly re­spond to pub­lic con­cerns

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By CAO YIN in Bei­jing and ZHENG JINRAN in Shi­ji­azhuang

Al­though WeChat has been pop­u­larly used by the gov­ern­ment to in­ter­act with the pub­lic, me­dia spe­cial­ists said it is more like an ad­min­is­tra­tive ser­vice tool and will not re­place gov­ern­ment mi­cro blog ac­counts.

Along with mi­cro blogs and news con­fer­ences, WeChat, a mo­bile text and voice-mes­sag­ing app de­signed by the In­ter­net gi­ant Ten­cent, has be­come a ma­jor tool for gov­ern­ment de­part­ments to dis­close in­for­ma­tion.

In May, the num­ber of gov­ern­ment WeChat ac­counts reached 1,000 across the Chi­nese main­land, Hong Kong and Ma­cao, ac­cord­ing to news web­site peo­

That num­ber had grown to more than 3,000 as of Thurs­day.

The first gov­ern­ment WeChat ac­count of He­bei prov­ince’s Caofei­d­ian New Dis­trict has been help­ing res­i­dents solve prob­lems since it was launched on July 15.

The ac­count of­fers in­for­ma­tion in six dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories, in­clud­ing the dis­trict’s news, weather, pop­u­lar is­sues and hot­line and ba­sic in­for­ma­tion.

“WeChat users can get timely replies by typ­ing in sev­eral num­bers on the app,” said Ma Li, an of­fi­cial re­spon­si­ble for op­er­at­ing the ac­count, adding that she up­dated the in­for­ma­tion ev­ery day.

“One num­ber cor­re­sponds to one cat­e­gory. So some in­for­ma­tion is replied au­to­mat­i­cally,” she said. “But we also con­tact peo­ple who raise their own ques­tions, en­sur­ing a one-onone ex­change.”

The ac­count has at­tracted nearly 2,000 fans, in­clud­ing those who are just trav­el­ing through the dis­trict, the state­ment said.

“The num­ber of our WeChat fol­low­ers is not big, but it has great po­ten­tial. It’s eas­ier to in­ter­act with the pub­lic this way com­pared with a mi­cro blog,” she added.

Gu Xiaoyi, another of­fi­cial in charge of the ac­count, said a spe­cial com­puter has been set up to run the ac­count, guar­an­tee­ing its se­cu­rity.

“First, I col­lect ques­tions and give a quick re­sponse if ‘I get it’ im­me­di­ately,” he said. “For sim­i­lar ques­tions, we’ll an­swer in a group, while for in­di­vid­ual ones, we’ll get in touch in a pri­vate chat room.”

“Mostly, we can re­ply to fol­low­ers within 10 min­utes,” he added.

Xing Chun­ling, a worker in the dis­trict’s in­dus­trial zone, said the gov­ern­ment WeChat ac­count has been use­ful to her in her daily rou­tine.

A high­way exit leav­ing the dis­trict is of­ten blocked by traf­fic jams, “which cost me an ex­tra hour to go to work and al­ways made me late tak­ing my daugh­ter to school”, said the 38-year-old.

“I was an­noyed and had no

Law-re­lated ac­counts have be­come more pop­u­lar as gov­ern­ment mi­cro blogs have thrived in China over the past three years.

By the end of Oc­to­ber, nearly 25,000 law-re­lated mi­cro blog ac­counts were op­er­at­ing on Sina Weibo, China’s largest Twit­ter-like plat­form, of which about 7,000 were owned by in­di­vid­ual of­fi­cials, ac­cord­ing to the lat­est re­port by the In­ter­net gi­ant Sina.

Henan prov­ince had the most le­gal mi­cro blogs in the coun­try, with about 2,500, fol­lowed by Jiangsu idea (how to solve the prob­lem). Out of cu­rios­ity, I fol­lowed the dis­trict’s WeChat and made a com­plaint to the gov­ern­ment,” she said.

Within five min­utes, Xing got a re­ply from Gu. One month later, the jam was al­le­vi­ated.

“The num­ber of gov­ern­ment and Shan­dong prov­inces, the re­port said.

Among the law-re­lated mi­cro blogs, more than 20,000 were op­er­ated by po­lice au­thor­i­ties, the re­port said, adding the num­ber of ac­counts launched by pros­e­cu­tors was small and sug­gest­ing pros­e­cu­tors bet­ter com­mu­ni­cate with the pub­lic.

Re­port­ing on tri­als via mi­cro blogs has boomed since June, with the num­ber of in­di­vid­ual post­ings re­lated to court hear­ings reach­ing 90,000, the re­port added. WeChat ac­counts has in­deed in­creased quickly in the past year, and gov­ern­ment de­part­ments have made use of their ser­vice func­tions,” said Hou E, a se­nior re­searcher at the In­sti­tute of Pub­lic Re­la­tions at Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Univer­sity of China.

Af­ter WeChat for the first time con­veyed in­for­ma­tion when a se­ri­ous earth­quake hit Lushan, Sichuan prov­ince, on April 20, “many gov­ern­ment de­part­ments paid at­ten­tion to it and aroused aware­ness to use it”, he said.

In July, po­lice in Xi­a­men, Fujian prov­ince, sent pic­tures of five women, sus­pected of pick­pock­et­ing on shop­ping streets, to its WeChat fol­low­ers. Within 24 hours, the case was closed, Hou said.

“It showed great po­ten­tial in gov­ern­ments’ use of WeChat, mean­ing the ap­pli­ca­tion can play a more im­por­tant role for ad­min­is­tra­tions to cope with so­cial is­sues,” he said, adding that the medium would not re­place mi­cro blogs.

Al­though mi­cro blog reg­is­tra­tion this year has de­creased, it is still a main­stream chan­nel for dis­clos­ing in­for­ma­tion and clar­i­fy­ing facts among gov­ern­ment de­part­ments, he added.

Shan Xue­gang, deputy sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the pub­lic opin­ion anal­y­sis of­fice of peo­, agreed, adding that the mi­cro blog is a “must” for ad­min­is­tra­tions.

Gov­ern­ment WeChats will be more like an as­sis­tant that pro­vides dif­fer­ent ser­vices for peo­ple’s dif­fer­ent de­mands, such as fa­cil­i­tat­ing res­i­dents to pay their mort­gages, he said.

“Al­though WeChat makes com­mu­ni­ca­tion more pri­vate than the mi­cro blog, the two have no con­flict,” he said. “Mi­cro blogs will still be a main chan­nel for the gov­ern­ment to pub­lish in­for­ma­tion and get feed­back from the pub­lic.”

Af­ter all, in the mod­ern tech­no­log­i­cal age, mi­cro blogs are more suit­able for mass com­mu­ni­ca­tion and im­prov­ing trans­parency of gov­ern­men­tal af­fairs, said Shen Yang, a pub­lic opin­ion spe­cial­ist at Wuhan Univer­sity.

“Not all res­i­dents can su­per­vise WeChat be­cause of pri­vacy set­tings. In ad­di­tion, if ad­min­is­tra­tors can bet­ter op­er­ate the ‘pri­vate let­ter’ func­tion on mi­cro blogs, solv­ing the pub­lic’s prob­lems can be­come more ef­fi­cient,” he added. Con­tact the writ­ers at caoyin@ chi­ and zhengjin­ran@chi­nadaily.

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