In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Jason Martin of DePaul University explains the growth of Chinese social media sites and the government’s attempts to control them.
Jason Martin is an assistant professor of journalism in the College of Communication at DePaul University. His research focuses on the political communication outcomes and the First Amendment implications of public affairs journalism in light of rapid economic, technological, and sociological developments. His work has appeared in a number of academic journals and book chapters and he holds a Ph.D. from Indiana University.
Dr. Jason Martin – Social Media and Chinese Censorship
China’s version of Twitter has become the nation’s most prevalent and fastest growing online application. More than 310 million Chinese use weibo, or microblogging services, on computers and mobile phones. Weibo has become so popular that even American basketball star Kobe Bryant opened an account in February to connect with his Chinese fans.
In a media landscape of limited diversity, weibo offer critical options for news and public opinion, as my colleagues Lars Willnat at Indiana University and Lu Wei at Zhejiang University and I found when researching the impact of social media on political participation in China.
Weibo were used to organize political protests and online campaigns in 2012 that have been credited with forcing government reform on issues like air quality, dissident torture, forced abortions, train crash investigations, and natural disaster recovery. In these instances, weibo have not only empowered ordinary citizens, but also journalists who want to circumvent pre-publication censorship. On weibo, scandals are raised, public opinion is shared, and news is spread outside official channels.
However, the growth and popularity of weibo also has drawn the attention of the Chinese government, which monitors the services to gauge the public’s mood and has launched accounts for its state-run media. And twice in the past year, party leaders have issued news laws and restrictions that call for increased monitoring and censorship of weibo. Often the government can delete weibo content after the fact, but not before it has spread in many different digital forms.
In the world of weibo, Chinese citizens are becoming empowered in new ways that are challenging the old model of information control in an authoritarian government. How they use that technology for political change is an exciting frontier for mass communication research.