Alibaba CEO Daniel Zhang quits Weibo board amid government scrutiny on Big Tech

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Alibaba Group Holding chairman and chief executive Daniel Zhang Yong has resigned from the board of directors of Weibo, the microblogging platform operator announced on Monday, days after Zhang left the board of ride-hailing firm Didi Chuxing.

Zhang’s Weibo seat has been filled by Chris Tung Pen Hung, Alibaba’s chief marketing officer who joined the e-commerce giant in 2016, with effect Monday.

Alibaba, owner of the South China Morning Post, is Weibo’s second largest shareholder, holding a 29.6 per cent stake. Known as China’s Twitter, Weibo completed a secondary listing in Hong Kong last month after going public on the Nasdaq in 2014.

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Alibaba declined to comment.

Daniel Zhang Yong, chairman and chief executive of Alibaba Group Holding.
Daniel Zhang Yong, chairman and chief executive of Alibaba Group Holding.

Weibo is one of China’s most vibrant destinations for online discussions, where users exchange opinions on topics ranging from the latest news to celebrity gossip.

Recently when Lee Jinglei, the estranged wife of Taiwanese-American heartthrob Wang Leehom, publicly accused her former husband of infidelity and emotional abuse, she chose to post on Weibo in addition to Instagram, which is blocked in mainland China.

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Weibo has also become an increasingly important place for citizens to share vital information, such as which districts have been locked down for mandatory testing – often hours before local authorities release official information.

Weibo’s status as China’s online public square has drawn intense scrutiny from the government.

In June 2020, the Cybersecurity Administration of China ordered Weibo to suspend two functions related to trending topics for a week over the “dissemination of illegal information”, citing an incident involving a person surnamed Jiang.

This comes after Jiang Fan, the president of Alibaba e-commerce platforms Taobao and Tmall, was embroiled in a very public spat on Weibo between a woman believed to be Jiang’s wife and a social media influencer.

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Hangzhou-based Alibaba, which is primarily active in e-commerce, has invested in more than 40 Chinese media companies between 2011 and 2022. It currently owns video-streaming platform Youku Tudou, as well as part of Shanghai-based anime streaming platform Bilibili.

However, Alibaba has divested some of its media assets in recent months, including a roughly 5 per cent stake in Mango Excellent Media Co, a Chinese shopping and entertainment television network.

Zhang also recently left the board of Didi, according to a statement by the mobility technology company on December 29. The Beijing-based firm has been under a cybersecurity investigation by Chinese authorities since July.

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