Why Does China Allow Freer Social Media? Protests versus Surveillance and Propaganda

35 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2017  

Bei Qin

The University of Hong Kong

David Strömberg

Stockholm University - Institute for International Economic Studies (IIES); Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

Yanhui Wu

University of Southern California - Marshall School of Business

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: January 2017

Abstract

This paper documents basic facts regarding public debates about controversial political issues on Chinese social media. Our documentation is based on a dataset of 13.2 billion blog posts published on Sina Weibo - the most prominent Chinese microblogging platform - during the 2009-2013 period. Our primary finding is that a shockingly large number of posts on highly sensitive topics were published and circulated on social media. For instance, we find millions of posts discussing protests and an even larger number of posts with explicit corruption allegations. This content may spur and organize protests. However, it also makes social media effective tools for surveillance. We find that most protests can be predicted one day before their occurrence and that corruption charges of specific individuals can be predicted one year in advance. Finally, we estimate that our data contain 600,000 government-affiliated accounts which contribute 4% of all posts about political and economic issues on Sina Weibo. The share of government accounts is larger in areas with a higher level of internet censorship and where newspapers have a stronger pro-government bias. Overall, our findings suggest that the Chinese government regulates social media to balance threats to regime stability against the benefits of utilizing bottom-up information.

Suggested Citation

Qin, Bei and Strömberg, David and Wu, Yanhui, Why Does China Allow Freer Social Media? Protests versus Surveillance and Propaganda (January 2017). CEPR Discussion Paper No. DP11778. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2900195

Bei Qin (Contact Author)

The University of Hong Kong ( email )

Pokfulam Road
Hong Kong, Pokfulam HK
China

David Strömberg

Stockholm University - Institute for International Economic Studies (IIES) ( email )

Stockholm, SE-10691
Sweden
+46 816 4376 (Phone)
+46 816 1443 (Fax)

Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR)

77 Bastwick Street
London, EC1V 3PZ
United Kingdom

Yanhui Wu

University of Southern California - Marshall School of Business ( email )

701 Exposition Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90089
United States

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