Sina Weibo: Zombie accounts, slain entries, and now, ghostly posts

While inspecting a potential hiccup to our Sina Weibo deleted posts monitoring system (see the ASL / see article explaining the method), we discovered the occurrence of a post that was seemingly deleted, but which still occasionally appeared on the API.

It was made as a repost made on March 2nd by David Bandurski of CMP, and was a repost of a Hu Shuli post commenting on the Wang Lijun incident on the same day. The post was archived, but can no longer be found on David’s timeline. Ms. Hu’s post was still alive on Weibo when I checked (and we have it archived, in case).

The strange thing was that this post was not marked as “permission denied” and was fully available when queried with the “statuses/show” function on the Weibo API (link — requires login). On the other hand, the user_timeline function, which lists the latest 200 posts made by a given user, reports that the post no longer existed.

Even more bizarre, still, when you searched on for David’s posts between the date range containing March 2nd, you’d see that the search page claims of 5 results, whereas only 4 are actually returned! This is shown in this following image:

For our monitoring tool, specifically the user_timeline function that casts the net for deleted posts, we have been using the first version (V1) of the API (because of rate limiting issues). V1 seems to me like the abandoned entrance for a data store that is more and more complex in its layers of visibility (and invisibility). These layers don’t seem supported with 100% fidelity on V1, and will return copies of user timeline that sometimes contained the “ghostly” post, and sometimes just won’t (probably depending on which physical server you end up accessing).

Not only there are “permission denied” or “weibo does not exist” posts, as described in our previous post about the methods behind the tool, but there are now posts wavering between a state of publication or non-publication (at least from the website’s point of view, they were dead).

Anecdotally, I noticed that “permission denied” posts usually meant that their dependent posts (by people who repost) would also be marked as deleted with “permission denied” as well. In this case of the Hu Shuli post, the original post was alive and well, while the repost was deleted.

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