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Gaining Insight into China Through the Lens of Social Media

Yale School of Management held its inaugural Social Media Colloquium on April 25. Guest speaker for the event was David Wertime YC ’01, co-founder of Tea Leaf Nation, a news site dedicated to Chinese citizen and social media, and senior editor at Foreign Policy.

Yale SOM Social Media Colloquia are a series of lunchtime talks organized by the Office of Communications at SOM, created to help students better understand social media and the personal and professional opportunities that are offered by it. This particular event was supported by Yale Center Beijing and the Global Network for Advanced Management.

A former lawyer in New York and Hong Kong, Wertime first encountered China as a Peace Corps volunteer. He has appeared on BBC television, Al Jazeera English, Public Radio International, Voice of America, and other outlets as a commentator on China. Originally from the Philadelphia area, he holds a law degree from Harvard and an English degree from Yale, where he was executive editor of the Yale Herald.

Wertime began the event on April 25 by giving a brief introduction to the social media environment in China and discussed key players in the area such as WeChat, QQ, and Sina Weibo. The conversation then progressed to issues surrounding internet censorship, China’s anti-corruption crackdown, and the increasing social media savviness of state media in the country. Wertime discussed the “social terror” phenomenon, where social media has been used by the public to protest against corrupt public officials and practices they view as unethical.

The session ended with Wertime taking questions from the audience in New Haven and viewers from around the world. Yale SOM Senior Associate Dean David Bach remotely asked Wertime whether social media in China was leading to democratization of information or segregation through manipulation. Wertime responded by stating, “Really, Chinese social media can have both effects simulataneously. It’s an important feedback tool for the government, where difficult, sometimes painful national discussions can take place.” He continued by stating, “It is also inadequate compared to more robust feedback mechanisms. It is highly unequal with small groups of people having vast amount of followers. The GINI coefficient of Chinese social media is very high.”

As an MAM candidate, my key takeaways from Wertime’s talk were that understanding social media is invaluable to understanding a society and market. Social media is playing a major role in the transformation of modern China and is giving the world a clearer picture of what truly matters to Chinese citizens (and consumers) today. Talks such as this complement our distinctly global curriculum at the MAM program, help us to become more culturally intelligent, and enrich our ability to work and manage global teams. As I prepare to begin my post-SOM position, I’m excited to leverage these learnings and feel they have immediately relevancy to my future career path.