You Really Can Criticize the Government on Social Media

Tea Leaf Nation posts a new report from Harvard researchers which analyses censorship of Sina Weibo, and concludes that criticism of the government is tolerated, as long as the tweets do not call for real life action:

As academic papers go, this one is surprisingly readable, offering one very important insight into censorship in Chinese social media. Here’s the money line:

“Contrary to previous understandings, posts with negative, even vitriolic, criticism of the state, its leaders, and its policies are not more likely to be censored. Instead, we show that the censorship program is aimed at curtailing collective action by silencing comments that represent, reinforce, or spur social mobilization, regardless of content.”

To put their conclusion even more simply: Chinese netizens can criticize the government all they want, and they won’t be censored for that reason alone. What gets the censors’ attention is anything which looks like it may actually mobilize netizens to take action in the real world, because the government’s most important objective to is to maintain social stability.

Discussion on Weibo is further curtailed by the filtering of keywords in the search function. CDT has a project to track these filtered words which can be seen here.


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