Internet and Politics in China: Taking stock and moving forward

Co-organized by the Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, Asian Dynamics Initiative, and ThinkChina, University of Copenhagen

9 May, 11:00 – 15:00

Location: South Campus, University of Copenhagen, Karen Blixens Vej 8, 2300, Copenhagen, Denmark (detailed location TBC)

Registration is closed

This seminar aims to critically reflect on the current discussion on internet and politics in Greater China. We are open to submissions that address the following questions: What have we learned from existing scholarship in the field? What are, or would be, emerging research topics and themes to study the internet and politics in contemporary China? How can we consolidate the status quo and move the field forward beyond, for instance, the case of China and contribute to a broader theoretical discussion? 

Lunches and dinners will be offered to invited speakers in the seminar. Please send your title, 150-word abstract, and 100-word short bio to Associate Professor Jun Liu. The deadline for submission is April 1. We are also planning a special issue in an international peer-reviewed journal as the outcome of this seminar.

Speakers will come from different disciplines, including political science, economics, sociology, and communication, and discuss and debate their up-to-date research and thoughts on the issue. The current speakers and their abstracts are as follows.  

Agenda (TBC)

Digital Media and Right-Wing Populism in China: A comparative perspective

Ralph Schroeder, Professor in Social Science of the Internet, the Oxford Internet Institute, UK

Populism is currently on the rise in different parts of the world. Yet it seems contradictory to seek populism in China, since the two defining features of populism, anti-elitism and an exclusionary notion of 'the people', are absent. However, versions of these two features can be found: there are protests against some parts of the elite that fail to champion 'China first' policies. There is also exclusionism towards certain ethnic groups, but even more so against foreign 'enemies' that fail to recognize China's greatness. There is another, deeper aspect, that combines anti-elitism and exclusionism: the key achievement of the Chinese regime is the extension of social citizenship benefits. Populism concerns the perception that elites are responsible for an unjust distribution of these benefits; accruing these benefits for a cosmopolitan urban few and excluding the deserving and increasingly disenfranchised many. Systematic comparison with populisms elsewhere is difficult but also revealing. Digital media are also useful here, since they yield powerful clues about the grievances of 'the people'.

Civic Hackers in Taiwan: Can online deliberation further democratize democracy?

Emilie Frenkiel, Associate Professor, Université Paris-Est Créteil, France 

The wave of rapid expansion of participatory and deliberative devices in the world has recently slowed down as they have proved extremely difficult to organize and their impact on public policy has been so far quite limited (Blondiaux & Fourniau 2011, Sintomer 2011). Activists from the open source community have worked on new tools and initiatives to remove these barriers. In the wake of the Sunflower movement, a group of civic hackers have created online tools to encourage Taiwanese authorities at different levels to make their actions more transparent and to facilitate the participation of citizens to various aspects of the decision-making process. This paper is based on a series of in-depth qualitative interviews with Audrey Tang, a leading member of this group who has since become a Minister in charge of digital affairs, including organizing binding online deliberation prior to law-making. It will present the philosophy of her civic tech group, g0v (gov zero), and the unusual official response to their actions. My main focus will therefore be the reasons for this rare co-optation of civic hackers by the previous and current Taiwanese governments and the early outcome of this collaboration; that is, the first laws decided upon in a fully participatory way thanks to online tools and government compliance.

Social Media and Protests in China

David Strömberg, Professor, the Department of Economics, Stockholm University, Sweden

We study whether the explosive growth of social media in China 2009-2013 affected incidence of protests and strikes. Over these years, Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter grew from none to 500 million registered users. In previous work, we have shown that Sina Weibo contains millions of posts discussing protests and strikes, some with explicit calls for participation in collective action events. Here, we provide evidence that social media changed how collective action events spread across cities. Based on retweet information, we construct a network of information flows across cities. We develop a difference-in-difference methodology to estimate the impact of network interactions. We find that events start to spread across cities that are more closely connected through the social media network after the introduction of Sina Weibo. Further, we find that social media network increased the incidence of strikes and protests, using a difference-in-difference specification leveraging the staggered penetration of Weibo use across cities due to factors such as pre-existing mobile phone use.

Deleting More Than Text: Multimedia censorship in Weibo

Jun Liu, Associate Professor, Department of Media, Cognition and Communication, UCPH

This study advances an important, yet understudied aspect of censorship: multimedia censorship deletion in the Chinese social media. We analyze and compare both censored and surviving posts in Chinese social media Weibo during the 2014 Umbrella Movement (UM) in Hong Kong, going beyond current text-dominated approach in censorship studies. Our results indicate higher levels of multimedia censorship deletion, with a severe crackdown on posts involving UM-related images. With a combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches, we also find evidence that image recognition mechanism would be employed to exert image censorship. We suggest that the censorship deletion rate in the Chinese social media should be higher than commonly revealed in censorship studies like King et al. (2013). Our analysis has significant implications not only to a comprehensive understanding of political censorship in Chinese internet, but also to information control and manipulation in the post-text era.

Speakers’ bios

Ralph Schroeder is Professor in Social Science of the Internet at the Oxford Internet Institute. He is also the director of its MSc programme in Social Science of the Internet. Before coming to Oxford University, he was Professor in the School of Technology Management and Economics at Chalmers University in Gothenburg (Sweden). His publications include 'Social Theory after the Internet: Media, Technology and Globalization' (UCL Press, 2018) 'Knowledge Machines: Digital Transformations of the Sciences and Humanities (MIT Press, 2015, co-authored with Eric T. Meyer), 'An Age of Limits: Social Theory for the Twenty-First Century' (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), 'Being There Together: Social Interaction in Virtual Environments' (Oxford University Press, 2010) and 'Rethinking Science, Technology and Social Change' (Stanford University Press, 2007). His current research interests include digital media and right-wing populism, and the social Implications of big data. include

Emilie Frenkiel is a political scientist with research focus on the Chinese contemporary intellectual debate on political change and ICTs. She is a co-editor in chief of and Dr. Frenkiel has recently published Conditional Democracy: The Contemporary Debate on Political Reform in Chinese Universities(ECPR press 2015) and a special issue about “Online political expression and participation of the Chinese from the diaspora and China” in Participations. Revue de sciences sociales sur la démocratie et la citoyenneté(Participations. Social Science Journal on Democracy and Citizenship,, 2017)

David Strömberg is Professor at the Department of Economics, Stockholm University, Sweden. Professor Strömberg holds an ERC Advanced Grant for a project on the effect of the massive increase of social media on society, examining protests and strikes, the promotion of local leaders and the coverage of events censored in traditional media. His latest articles about censorship in the Chinese internet have been published inJournal of Economic Perspectivesand American Economic Review.

Jun Liu is an award-winning author and Associate Professor in the Department of Media, Cognition and Communication at the Centre for Communication and Computing. His research areas cover political communication, information and communication technologies, and political sociology. He has won several awards from the American Political Science Association and the International Communication Association and been a visiting scholar in Stanford University and Oxford University. His latest research outcome is a monograph titled Communication and Contention in the Digital Ageby the Oxford University Press.