Jufang Wang, former news editor in China, and Ralph Schroeder of the Oxford Internet Institute, assess the Communist Party’s efforts to control public opinion in China by regulation of social media platforms and the controversial ‘social credit system’.
Jufang Wang, a former news editor in China and academic visitor at the BBC, offers insights into the Communist Party’s efforts to control public opinion in China through its regulation of social media platforms such as Weibo, WeChat, and Toutiao. As the gap widens between the official pronouncements of the Party and the views and opinions expressed through social media, the state is increasingly concerned about how this can erode and destabilize its legitimacy in the eyes of its citizens. In response, platforms are regulated as online news providers and licensed, so their ability to operate can be revoked if they do not comply with the state’s requirements, all of which is enforced through 24-hour policing of content by tens of thousands of content moderators.
Ralph Schroeder from the Oxford Internet Institute presents his conception of online platforms as part of a complex infrastructure controlled by algorithmic logic. He argues that the fragmented, weak civil society in China cannot mobilize as a coherent threat to the state and that the state would not be best served by a blanket repression of social media through which civil society expresses its opinions, and through which trends in popular opinion can be identified. The controversial 'social credit system' the Chinese state employs for surveillance and social management of the population is perceived in the West as Orwellian – yet Prof Schroeder cites research to indicate that Chinese citizens see it as a means to protect themselves against the unscrupulous behaviour of private companies.