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Regulating Social Media in China

Foucauldian Governmentality and the Public Sphere

Bei Guo

Regulating Social Media in China: Foucauldian Governmentality and the Public Sphere is the first in-depth study to apply the Foucauldian notion of governmentality to China’s field of social media. This book provokes readers to contemplate the democratizing potential of social media in China. By deploying Foucault’s theory of governmentality as an explanatory framework, author Bei Guo explores the seemingly paradoxical relationship of the Chinese party-state to the expansion of social media platforms. Guo argues that the Chinese government has several interests in promoting community participation and engagement through the internet platform Weibo, including extending the presence of its own agencies on Weibo while simultaneously controlling the discourse in many important ways. This book provides an important corrective to overly sanguine accounts that social media promotes a Habermasian public sphere along liberal democratic lines. It demonstrates how China, as an authoritarian country, responds to its citizens’ voracious hunger for information and regulates this by carefully adopting both liberal and authoritarian techniques.

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Chapter 4. Transformative Regulatory Measures of Weibo


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Since the rise of the internet, countries including China have embraced it widely for various purposes. The internet has exerted immeasurable impact on the cultural and political spheres of almost every nation. China is not alone in applying what can be seen as a double standard towards the internet, using the technology to promote its economy, while carefully monitoring its use and ultimately retaining tight control over information flows. Even the world’s most seemingly democratic nations like the USA or Germany still have limits on what the internet is allowed to do, finding ways to persuade, patrol and police cyberspace (Gerhards & Schäfer 2010). Similarly, other authoritarian countries such as Cuba also accept the principle that internet technology will bring benefits in priority areas while using it as a platform for close monitoring of political activities instead of overtly cutting their country off from the internet (Sun 2010, p. 3). Within Asia, countries such as Malaysia and Singapore observe a similar principle (Diamond 2010; Lee 2010).

Since the internet continues to offer the potential for online protest and threats to governance, the Chinese authorities remain vigilant as to whether such virtual activism serves simply as a harmless outlet for venting resentment ← 83 | 84 → or as a means for potentially mobilizing anti-government protests in the street. The Chinese government has over time built an elaborate system of internet regulation, restricting information...

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