Defective online public opinion? Analyzing effectiveness and validity of Chinese online public expression: a case study of 2015 Tianjin explosion
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/07/2022
The internet has developed rapidly since it entered China in the late 1980s. With the assistance of major online news portals, more and more Chinese people can join online discussions on public affairs. Existing research focuses on the media propaganda conducted by the state, the potential of media digitalization to challenge the authoritarian rule in China, the government censorship to online information and the online public sphere development. However, very few scholars aim at solving the puzzle that whether online public opinion, represented by online news comments, has value for public policy reference in the Chinese domestic environmental disaster case. Are online news comments relevant to public issues representative of the Chinese population and consistent? Are online discussions related to public affairs valid in articulating public demands? What is the gatekeeping criteria and procedure of online news comments from the internet companies if there is any? Can potential grass-root online opinion leaders attract and influence online discussions on public issues from the perspective of attitude? With a case study focusing on online news discussions of Sina and Sohu during the Tianjin explosion case in 2015, I endeavour to answer these questions by conducting content analysis and textual analysis to the online news discussion data combined with in-depth semi-structured interviews with editors of online news companies. I argue that there is a tendency of being generic and standardized when discussing public affairs in online news comment during the Tianjin Case. Not enough evidences can be found to demonstrate the consistency and representativeness of online news comments in articulating public demands. Staff at the News Interactive Centre of online news companies play a significant role of implementing the censorship of political sensitive online news comments. Under the model of “governance based on location”, it is very difficult for local governments located outside of Beijing to intervene into the gatekeeping of online opinions. Moreover, online public topics are hard to influence topics of the government as most of the online public concerns and the prioritized topics by the Chinese government officials do not share the similar priorities. Although evidence showing that potential grass-root online opinion leaders have attracted attentions on public issues discussion, they have not really influenced online opinions on public affairs from the perspective of attitude.