Weibo verifies profiles of desperate bloggers at the center of the coronavirus outbreak
China’s Twitter-like platform speeds up account authentication for doctors and Wuhan residents
Information control is usually tight in China, but now popular microblogging site Weibo is authenticating accounts discussing the new coronavirus. The company says it’s an attempt to verify information about the disease outbreak.
Just as verified Twitter accounts get a coveted blue check next to their profile names, verified Weibo accounts are marked with a golden “V.” The Chinese platform says it recently sped up the verification of 131 profiles, about a third of which belong to doctors and nurses.
The rest are accounts of either residents in Wuhan, where the coronavirus originated, or those with family there. Many have been writing about their desperate experiences seeking medical help in the quarantined city of 11 million.
“Dad has had a fever for 7 days, serious cough… the doctor highly suspects it’s the new coronavirus and recommends hospitalization,” wrote one verified user. “No hospital is admitting him, been under home quarantine… Can anyone help my dad get an injection at the hospital? I don’t want anything to happen to my dad!”
“This is my 68-year-old grandmother who’s been having low fever and dry coughing since the 18th,” wrote another verified user who included a personal phone number and a photo of a medical report in her public post. “The doctor recommends that we report to community authorities to receive hospital treatment, but we’ve reported and there hasn’t been any response.”
Others are also posting about their daily lives in a city under lockdown. One verified user posted photos of empty shelves in a supermarket. Another described her harrowing plan to walk nearly 14 hours to visit her ailing parents in Wuhan. Public transport in the city has been shut down for more than a week, leaving residents without private cars stranded.
Some pleas for help have apparently been answered. One verified user, who said his father had trouble breathing, reported that he’s since been hospitalized for treatment.
Online censorship in China has seen some relaxation amid the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed at least 213 people and infected about 10,000. People have been taking to Weibo and WeChat to voice their anger about what some see as government failure to contain the disease. But some news stories deemed sensitive have still been taken down.
Weibo is encouraging more individuals to apply for verification to “fight the outbreak by delivering true information.” It recently published a list of top debunked rumors in January, including a false claim that rinsing your mouth with salt water can kill the new coronavirus.