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

Listed author(s):
  • Bei Qin
  • David Strömberg
  • Yanhui Wu

In this paper, we document 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 these posts are informative in predicting the occurrence of specific events. We find an even larger number of posts with explicit corruption allegations, and that these posts predict future corruption charges of specific individuals. Our findings challenge a popular view that an authoritarian regime would relentlessly censor or even ban social media. Instead, the interaction of an authoritarian government with social media seems more complex.

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 31 (2017)
Issue (Month): 1 (Winter)
Pages: 117-140

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:31:y:2017:i:1:p:117-40
Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.31.1.117
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  1. Maja Adena & Ruben Enikolopov & Maria Petrova & Veronica Santarosa & Ekaterina Zhuravskaya, 2015. "Radio and the Rise of The Nazis in Prewar Germany," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 130(4), pages 1885-1939.
  2. repec:cup:apsrev:v:103:y:2009:i:04:p:645-668_99 is not listed on IDEAS
  3. Acemoglu, Daron & Hassan, Tarek & Tahoun, Ahmed, 2014. "The Power of the Street: Evidence from Egypt's Arab Spring," CEPR Discussion Papers 10262, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  4. Enikolopov, Ruben & Makarin, Alexey & Petrova, Maria, 2016. "Social Media and Protest Participation: Evidence from Russia," CEPR Discussion Papers 11254, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Stefano Della Vigna & Ruben Enikolopov & Vera Mironova & Maria Petrova & Ekaterina Zhuravskaya, 2014. "Cross-Border Media and Nationalism: Evidence from Serbian Radio in Croatia," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 6(3), pages 103-132, July.
  6. Chris Edmond, 2013. "Information Manipulation, Coordination, and Regime Change," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 80(4), pages 1422-1458.
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