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Netizens ‘Occupy’ Obama’s Sofa

The unblocking of Google Plus in China led to an unwelcome surprise for President Obama

03·02·2012

Netizens ‘Occupy’ Obama’s Sofa

The unblocking of Google Plus in China led to an unwelcome surprise for President Obama

03·02·2012

US President Barack Obama must have raised a quizzical eyebrow upon seeing his microblog posts “occupied” by a flood of Chinese-language posts, after he registered a real-name account on the social network Google Plus this January. But the “invasion” was stealthy, instantly overwhelming and timed with pinpoint precision. On February 20, Chinese netizens accidently discovered that they could log on to the once-blocked site and post comments on the president’s homepage.

The discovery has proved unfortunate for Obama. Now, whenever he publishes a new post (even when it is midnight in China), it is immediately pounced upon by hundreds of Chinese respondents, who leave comments in simplified Chinese such as “Sofa” (沙发), “Bench” (板凳), and “Ad space for rent” (广告位招租). Obama himself may even have paused to reach for a dictionary and look up the terms, only to find they all mean nothing more than “hello”. The nature of the comments begs the question of whether they are “genuine” or flow from a more spurious source, but there is enough legitimate-looking traffic to suggest at least some of the posters are for real.

One Chinese microblogger playfully suggested that everyone should post comments in different Chinese dialects to increase the employment opportunities for Chinese dialect translation jobs in the US, while an English-speaking poster named Ali Utlu seemed baffled (if not annoyed) at the overwhelming splurge of Chinese characters: “My Chinese friends, can you please post in English?”

While the onslaught may seem harmless, there is a catch. Every Google Plus post is limited to a maximum of 500 replies. So once Chinese netizens “occupy” the space, there is no room left for Americans to comment. A BBC report commented that the Chinese netizens’ enthusiasm “has prompted one poster to suggest that if China ever abandoned its internet restrictions, the United States would have to protect its social media with a Great Firewall of its own.”

Below we list some popular phrases used to “build a highrise” (盖楼, meaning to add comments below a post, with one response referring to one story of the building).

Internet jargon for being first to post in response

Sofa (沙发 shāfā)

To observe a debate

Bench (板凳 bǎndèng)

Watching as a bystander (强势围观 qiángshì wéiguān)

To mark one’s name under a post

Scrambling for a standing ticket (抢站票 qiǎng zhànpiào)

Occupying a seat (占座 zhàn zuò)

Leaving my name here before it gets popular (火前留名 huǒ qián liúmíng)

An ad space for rent (广告位招租 guǎnggàowèi zhāozū)

Selling snacks and soft drinks in the front row (前排兜售瓜子汽水 qiánpái dōushòu guāzǐ qìshuǐ)