The Political Hierarchy of Censorship: An Analysis of Keyword Blocking of CCP Officials’ Names on Sina Weibo Before and After the 2012 National Congress (S)election
Eleventh Chinese Internet Research Conference, 2013, Forthcoming
37 Pages Posted: 20 May 2013 Last revised: 4 Jul 2014
Date Written: June 15, 2013
As King, Pan, and Roberts write in their 2013 study on Chinese social media; research into the dynamics of internet censorship in China, “exposes an extraordinarily rich source of information about the Chinese government’s interests, intentions, and goals". This paper seeks to use the dynamics of internet censorship by China’s most important social media site, Sina Weibo, to achieve a better understanding of the 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in November 2012. To this end, searches were performed daily on the names of all 2,270 delegates to the Party Congress on Sina Weibo for five weeks before and after the event. Data recorded included information on the number of results reported and whether the keywords were reported to be blocked or not.
As a complement to work by researchers including Gary King, David Bamman, King-wa Fu, and Tao Zhu into Chinese social media censorship, our study concludes that Sina Weibo actively manipulated and filtered the search results of Communist Party delegates — particularly higher-ranked and incumbent officials — during the observation period, with an apparent decrease in search blocks after the Party Congress. This study offers evidence that the Party, through proxies like Sina Weibo, proactively attempts to shape public opinion online, just as they do in traditional media. The decrease in search blocks perhaps indicates that the Party is possibly still seeking to find a balance between utilizing the internet as a check on officials and suppressing the internet to prevent dissent; or perhaps it is a short-term effect due to a new wave of leaders taking office.
Keywords: China, censorship, internet, social media, elite politics, Sina Weibo, CCP, party congress
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