Stockmann, Daniela, Felix Garten, and Ting Luo (2020). “Who is a PRC user? Comparing Chinese Social Media User Agreements” First Monday 25(8), 2020.
Social media companies rely on user agreements as one means to manage content produced by users. While much has been written on user agreements and community standards of US-based social media, surprisingly little is known about Chinese user agreements and their implications. We compare terms of services as well as privacy policies of WeChat and Weibo between 2014 and 2019 using their US-counterparts WhatsApp and Twitter as a benchmark. We find that Chinese user agreements reveal a territorial-based understanding of content management differentiating between PRC and Non-PRC users based on language, IP address and country of citizenship. Secondly, Chinese social media companies are surprisingly transparent about what content can be published, which has implications for self-censorship among users. Thirdly, changes in PRC User agreements reflect Xi Jinping’s tightening control of the Internet. Finally, US-based platforms have moved towards content management that differs by region, thus becoming increasily similar to the Chinese approach over time.
Discussion is often celebrated as a critical element of public opinion and political participation. Recently, scholars have suggested that the design and features of specific online platforms shape what is politically expressed online and how. Building on these findings and drawing on 112 semi-structured qualitative interviews with information technology experts and Internet users, we explain how major Chinese social media platforms differ in structure and motivation. Drawing on a nationwide representative survey and an online experiment, we find that platforms aiming to make users a source of information through public, information-centred communication, such as the Twitter-like Weibo, are more conducive to political expression, while platforms built to optimise social connections through private, user-centred communication, such as WhatsApp and Facebook-like WeChat, tend to inhibit political expression. These technological design effects are stronger when users believe the authoritarian state tolerates discussion, but less important when political talk is sensitive. The findings contribute to the debate on the political consequences of the Internet by specifying technological and political conditions.
Why does online public opinion emerge in some social media more easily than in others? Building on research on authoritarian deliberation, we describe spaces for political discussion in Chinese cyberspace in terms of interactivity, which results in different forms of political discussion. Drawing on semi-structured qualitative expert interviews with information and communications technology professionals at Tencent, Weibo, and Baidu, we explain how major social media differ in terms of their structure and the company’s motivation. We specify which features are more likely to facilitate the emergence of online public opinion in Chinese social media and provide preliminary evidence from 92 semi-structured interviews with Internet users.
Stockmann, Daniela and Ting Luo. (2019). “Authoritarian Deliberation 2.0: Lurking and Discussing Politics in Social Media in China” in Michael Delli-Carpini, ed. Digital Media and Democratic Futures, University of Pennsylvania Press (2019).
This chapter studies the impact of online discussion on political engagement by exploring differences between people who read (lurkers) and people who comment (discussants), and the motivations and concerns for censorship that may influence these respective behaviors on social media in China. Relying on in-depth qualitative interviews, online survey data – including an experiment and a case study of an online discussion – we focus on social media users in China. We find that lurkers tend to seek information about politics online and do not join the debate out of higher concerns for privacy. Discussants tend to voice their views as a means to socialise and be recognised. Comparatively lower concerns for privacy facilitate the expression of views online, though discussants adjust their views and use fake accounts when openly expressing opinions. Our findings have implications for the role of social media in China and perhaps other authoritarian states.
Stockmann, Daniela. (2015). “Responsive Authoritarianism in Chinese Media.” In Avery Goldstein and Jacques deLisle, eds, 2015. China’s Challenges. Philadephia: University of Pennsylvania Press.
China is following a general global trend toward commercialising media and introducing new media technology that has not been confined to democracies. This chapter concludes that market-based and new media pose a major challenge to China’s regime stability, but that the Chinese central leadership is able to cope with these challenges in ways that are beneficial to its rule. Chinese media remain embedded in the Chinese political system and through this institutional infrastructure the Chinese Communist Party can maintain the balance between liberalisation and control, which together have a stabilising effect on the overall political system. In doing so, China resembles other one-party regimes that have a greater capacity to restrict information flows and thus can use market-based and new media to their advantage.
Stockmann, Daniela. (2015). “The Chinese Internet Audience: Who Seeks Political Information Online?.” In Hanspeter Kriesi, Daniel Kübler, and Lisheng Dong, eds, 2015. Urban Mobilization and New Media in Contemporary China. London: Ashgate.
This chapter explores who is using the Internet to lurk in and participate in online political discussion in China. To place Internet use within the broader context the chapter first introduces different forms of active engagement with domestic media in China. Based on the China Survey 2008, a unique public opinion survey drawn from a random national sample that includes migrants, the chapter lays out patterns of information seeking and political discussion among Internet users in cities and the countryside. Depending on which communication channel people turn to, Chinese users express different opinions regarding public affairs. More broadly, the chapter challenges common assumptions about who engages in politics online, such as that they belong to a growing Chinese middle class, exclude weak groups of society (ruoshi qunti), are nationalistic or favour democracy.
In most liberal democracies commercialised media is taken for granted, but in many authoritarian regimes the introduction of market forces in media represents a radical break from the past with uncertain political and social implications. This book argues that consequences of media marketisation depend on the institutional design of the state. In one-party regimes such as China, market-based media promote regime stability, rather than destabilise authoritarianism or bring about democracy. The Chinese state is able to retain one-sided political messages in the news via the interaction between institutions and the market. Yet at the same time, media marketisation makes a great difference to audiences. Chinese people seek out and believe market-based media that appear credible in the eyes of citizens. A comparison with over thirty countries reveals that market forces are unlikely to undermine the rule of the Chinese Communist Party in the near future.