A social media post about giraffe conservation has become the latest place for people in China who are unhappy about the economy to vent their frustration, as the Chinese government increasingly cracks down on negative commentary.
On 2 February, the US embassy in China posted an update on its Weibo account about tracking giraffes in Namibia using GPS technology. As of Monday afternoon local time, the post had received approximately 166,000 comments, many of them about China’s economic pains.
“Who can help me? I’ve been unemployed for a long time,” wrote one commenter. “I’ve seen a few comments about stocks, will they be deleted?” wrote another.
Other comments, reported by Bloomberg, included: “If criticisms are not allowed, then praises are meaningless” and negative references to China’s stock market.
Weibo, which has 593 million monthly active users, moderates comments that are posted on the platform.
Threads beneath posts by foreign organisations, such as the US embassy, are a slightly more permissive environment for commenters than those below posts by Chinese state agencies, which often take it upon themselves to ensure that discussions stay within government’s red lines.
Many of the comments on the US embassy’s post appeared to have been scrubbed from the platform as of Monday, or drowned out by comments saying variations on “I love China”.
Chinese authorities are increasingly concerned about gloomy commentary as the economy struggles to rebuild momentum after the lifting of the country’s harsh “zero-Covid” pandemic restrictions. In December, social media influencers were warned against making public comments that would “bad-mouth the economy”.
The restrictions on negative comments have failed to mask the fact that China’s stock market is flailing. The CSI 300 index, which tracks the Shanghai and Shenzhen bourses, tumbled nearly 5% last week to a a five-year low. On Sunday, the Chinese securities regulatory commission said it would step up market stabilisation measures.
The popularity of the US embassy’s post about giraffes prompted giraffe-related comments elsewhere on Weibo. In one since deleted comment, a user wrote: “The giraffe has reached a new high. Even though many comments have been deleted and many likes have been deleted, it has still reached a new high! Weibo administrators and your editors, thank you for your hard work. The holidays keep you so busy.”