Creative title, right?
Research Question and Working Thesis:
How can online activism in China transcend the boundaries of strict censorship imposed by the Chinese Communist Party to create meaningful change? Current Chinese “activist” groups such as public interest NGOs have been permitted to remain online by only promoting causes that are deemed “unthreatening” by the Chinese government and do not outwardly challenge its authority (e.g. campaigns for endangered species, charities for rural school children, environmental awareness, etc.) These institutions have been allowed to advocate for their causes to the Chinese web population because they choose to avoid oppositional politics and purposely seek a non-confrontational approach to their “activism.” However, this current mode of compliance and coexistence only solidifies the Chinese government’s monolithic control over the Internet, as these public interest groups satisfy the desires of netizens to collectively create social change and provides a semblance of offline involvement that true activism would otherwise create. To avoid this type of false online activism that acquiesces to the oppressive government’s censorship and thought control, the collective potential of social media must be harnessed. With its pervasive reach (over 91% of all Chinese netizens use social media daily) and speed (a subversive blog post can reach up to 5 million reblogs within the first thirty minutes of its creation, far before many censors can react), social media in China has the power to draw public attention to the many violations of freedom of speech and expression in modern China.
As a road map for the remainder of my RBA, I plan to highlight specific examples of the efficacy of social media in mobilizing enormous groups of netizens around government-targeted activism (e.g. corruption, imprisonment of human rights lawyers, etc.) I also hope to address the small instances when online outrage over governmental corruption does result in change, albeit small — are these small appeasements meant to defuse a momentous collective action? How does the Chinese government prevent the many social media outbursts from escalating into an outright revolution or rebellion?
If you have any suggestions or examples that are relevant, please let me know! Thanks for reading 🙂