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China adds geolocation tracking to social media for 'healthy online environment'

Weibo showed Bill Gates as being in Henan, Messi in Shanghai

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Weibo app. 

Weibo app.  (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Chinese social media platforms began rolling out geolocation features in late April, triggering heated discussion among the country’s netizens.

Using their IP addresses, Weibo started displaying the location of users Thursday (April 28) for the sake of creating a “healthy online environment,” according to WhatsonWeibo. In the days that followed, Douyin, Toutiao, Xiaohongshu and Zhihu all followed suit.

A user’s location is not only visible on account pages but also alongside any comments or posts they make. The function cannot be turned off in the settings section.

The new feature has generated mixed reactions from users on the platforms. Some commented that knowing whether a user is in China or abroad is useful and that the feature allows greater visibility of trending topics that are catching on within one particular region of the country.

Yet many users expressed concern that the function is another tool for monitoring, while others said it is relatively meaningless since the IP location can be changed with a virtual private network (VPN). Other netizens pointed out that celebrity accounts are often not run by the person they represent but by a social media manager.

Some were amused to note that, according to Weibo, Bill Gates is actually living in China’s Henan Province, while Argentinian soccer legend Lionel Messi showed up as being in Shanghai.