Governance of Public Opinion in the Age of Platforms: A Study of China

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. She describes the widening gap between the official pronouncements of the Party and the views and opinions expressed through social media, the erosion of legitimacy this brings, and the policy of regulating platforms through 24-hour policing of content by tens of thousands of content moderators.

Ralph Schroeder from the Oxford Internet Institute 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.