一位英国学者对中国微博的观察

【一英国学者对微博的观察】中国网民用微博表达各种不满,对政府信息控制是新挑战。有人说微博的出现使民众政治参与向前迈进一大步,但没有证据这种变化在中国发生。尽管微博推动了在线公共舆论的发展,能迫使政府干预某些低层次的渎职行为,但它总体上是任性和不可靠的。与此同时政府也积极利用微博为己所用。

文章原文:

文章题目:China’s Weibo: Is faster different?

Abstract

The popularization of microblogging inChina represents a new challenge to the state’s regime of information control.The speed with which information is diffused in the microblogosphere has helpednetizens to publicize and express their discontent with the negativeconsequences of economic growth, income inequalities and official corruption. Insome cases, netizen-led initiatives have facilitated the mobilization of onlinepublic opinion and forced the central government to intervene to redress actsof lower level malfeasance. However, despite the growing corpus of such cases,the government has quickly adapted to the changing internet ecology and is usingthe same tools to help it maintain control of society by enhancing its claimsto legitimacy, circumscribing dissent, identifying malfeasance in its agentsand using online public opinion to adapt policy and direct propaganda efforts.This essay reflects on microblogging in the context of the Chinese internet,and argues that successes in breaking scandals and mobilizing opinion againstrecalcitrant officials should not mask the reality that the government isutilizing the microblogosphere to its own advantage.

Keywords

Authoritarian, China, cyber-activism,microblogging, new and social media,

political change, Weibo

Conclusion

Despite the elevated expectations thatsocial media have engendered worldwide, the potential for microblogs to affectpolitical behaviour and political change in China is constrained by conditionsonline and offline. Dissent and mobilization remain bound by censorship andcontrol, and the objectives of its participants are necessarily circumscribed.The government’s embracing and control of the information revolution continuesto serve it well and it continues to keep the lid on the mobilization of eitherlarge-scale, cross-cutting protests or a viable opposition movement. Althoughsome scholars argue that ‘political participation has taken a big step forwardbecause of microblogging’ (Xiao, quoted in Richburg, 2011), there isinsufficient empirical evidence to support the view that microblogging holdsnew and qualitatively distinct potential for political behaviour and politicalchange in China. Mass movements in the physical world are facilitated by communicationsbetween people, and social media like Weibo support this, but communicationdoes not equal mobilization. Rather than reporting ‘trace data’ that supportthe author’s view about the effects of social media, we require a systematicanalysis of a large number of cases, without selecting for outcome, so that wehave a better idea about the conditions under which Weibo ‘campaigns’ gaintraction (or fail to). A larger number of cases would also enable us to betterinfer the conditions in which online acts lead to mobilization offline (asexemplified by in the case of offline protest acts). Furthermore, as Jiang(2010b) and others have argued, it is increasingly difficult, indeedartificial, to separate the uses and effects of social media from other formsof online and offline means of communication. For all the exuberant commentarysurrounding social mediause during the Arab Spring, more careful analysis suggeststhat traditional media and face-to-face communications were equally, if notmore, influential (Calhoun, 2011). Prior research on social movements in Chinasimilarly demonstrates that physical world social ties are crucial (O’Brien andLi, 2006; Shi and Cai, 2006), even where campaigns have a significant onlinecomponent (Sullivan and Xie, 2009). As the Weibo user base continues to growand becomes increasingly mobile and integrated into everyday lives, the needfor more holistic studies that treat social media as one component of thecommunications repertoire increases (cf. Farrell, 2011).

Information transmitted by Weibo canconstitute an accountability mechanism in the form of online public opinion,but is capricious and unreliable. Virtual mob justice is a clumsy mechanism foradvancing government accountability. Furthermore, rather than a ‘carnivalesqueriot’ (Herold, 2011), human flesh searches raise the spectre of Cultural Revolution-eravigilantism, albeit not systematically directed by state ideology (MacKinnon,2009). In cases where netizens have acted against recalcitrant citizens (ratherthan government agents), authorities have usually declined to become involved (Herold,2008), indicating tacit acceptance of a form of ‘justice’ that can result insevere harassment and physical world consequences for the targets of suchactions. Governments in China sometimes respond to their agents’ misdemeanoursmore efficaciously when they witness rapidly assembling and riotous netizens,but they are also using information culled from Weibo to identify andneutralize the same ‘threatening’ behaviour. Netizens will likely continue touse Weibo to publicize localized incidences of low level malfeasance, and thecentral government may allow them to proceed and may sometimes intervene. Butwherever a Weibo event holds potential to grow beyond the parameters oflocalized discontent, the state will implement its censorship and propagandaregime, reinforced by control of technological infrastructure, legal andpolitical leverage over internet companies and by marshalling physical worldpublic security apparatus.

Ultimately, while microblogs may speed upthe diffusion of information, there is little reason, as yet, to believe that‘faster is different’ (Tufekci, 2011). The implications of Weibo may thus notbe in isolated events that generate small scale interventions, but in a longer termprocess by which netizens become accustomed to greater transparency, political participationand demand more systematic mechanisms for accountability, as suggested by Tai(2006) and others.

文章作者:JonathanSullivan, University of Nottingham, UK

文章来源:New media andSociety

文章链接:http://nms.sagepub.com.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/content/early/2013/02/06/1461444812472966.full.pdf+html

文章下载: China's Weibo, Is faster different


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