US police all a-twitter about Weibo
Updated: 2014-01-10 08:51
Law enforcement officers are using social media to engage with the local Chinese community, as Zhang Yuchen reports.
When the police department of Alhambra, California, announced that it was opening an account with Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter, on Dec 9, the aim was to reach out to the Chinese community and encourage greater cross-cultural engagement.
Although a number of foreign official and cultural organizations and celebrities have already used Weibo to promote cultural and civic ties, it's the first time a foreign police department has set up an account on China's largest social network, which has millions of active users worldwide. The target group is the tech-savvy younger generation of Chinese immigrants, aged 24 to 36.
"Our first initiative was to break down a few language barriers," said Alhambra's Chief of Police Mark Yokoyama. "Weibo seemed a natural way to communicate with the Chinese community, who might be unfamiliar with, or distrust, the police or local government."
Chinese residents of Alhambra scored significantly lower on three criteria - neighborhood belonging, collective efficacy and civic engagement - than whites or Hispanics, according to Alhambra Source, a news portal that uses journalism to bridge the gap between the city's multilingual population and the local government and promote civic engagement.
Approximately 13 million Chinese live in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Alhambra has a population of 85,000, and approximately 53 percent are of Asian descent. Of those, 65 to 70 percent, or 30,000, are ethnically Chinese, a figure larger than the populations of many cities in southern California, which is home to most US-based Asians.
The attempt to reach out started after Yokohama read a news story that examined ways of increasing the Chinese community's engagement in civic life. However, at present, most of the 6,000 people who follow the account are not actually resident in the US; they mainly reside in China and use the account to gain information about places they're considering moving to.
"The Chinese population stays quiet and doesn't get involved in the community, but we would like to know what they are thinking and doing," said Walter Yu, a court interpreter, who moved to Alhambra from Shanghai 10 years ago and updates the police's Weibo account. The platform mainly focuses on essential information about daily life in the city, some of which has been translated from the department's Facebook page.