Physical Exposures to Political Protests Impact Civic Engagement: Evidence from 13 Quasi-Experiments with Chinese Social Media
42 Pages Posted: 22 Feb 2016 Last revised: 26 Aug 2016
Date Written: August 25, 2016
How does physically witnessing a political protest affect citizens’ discussion of social and political issues in authoritarian societies? Conventional methods are unable to answer this question because of their difficulty in identifying witnesses, constructing meaningful counterfactuals, and obtaining information on pre-protest political behaviors. In this paper, I examined the impact of 13 protests in Hong Kong from 2012-14 on witnesses from mainland China, using a quasi-experiment design. The design uses geolocated posts from a Chinese social networking site to construct treated groups who were physically close to one of the protests when it occurred, and control groups who already left Hong Kong before the protests occurred and therefore could not witness them. Using difference-in-differences estimators, I find that the protests had a significant causal impact on promoting Chinese witnesses’ intensity of civic engagement. The content of the increased discussions is around civic issues regarding daily lives instead of political democracy. The results are robust in a replication test based on protests in Taiwan and three placebo tests. This paper has implications for the use of social media data to study both authoritarian politics and social movements.
Keywords: Protest, Quasi Experiment, Social Media, Geolocation, Civic Engagement, Democracy, China, Hong Kong
JEL Classification: C9
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