Following a burgeoning literature on private actors under digital authoritarianism, this study aims to understand the role played by social media users in sustaining authoritarian rule. It examines a subcultural community-the queer-fantasy community-on Chinese social media to expound how members of this community interpreted China's censorship poli...
Context in source publication
The Chinese government has effectively adapted to the new environment in which information flow is greatly facilitated by the wide use of social media. This adaptation is aided not only by its resources and learning ability but also by citizens supportive of the regime. Content manipulation and censorship are the two primary approaches used by the Chinese government to manage social media. This paper examines how supportive citizens help the state manage cyberspace by tipping off state agencies. The state encourages tip providers by responding to tips, including political ones, and sometimes by rewarding the provider. Tip providers reduce the cost of monitoring social media, enhance the legitimacy of censorship, and discourage and marginalize regime critics. The presence of tip providers reflects and reinforces the split or ideological polarization among the population.
What are the dynamics of the participatory online discourse in an authoritarian context? More specifically, what patterns of Chinese state-society interactions can be drawn from the existing nexus of top-down control and bottom-up participation? To explore the questions, this study examines the Chinese nation-state personifications produced by ‘fanquan girls’, nationalistic fans of pop stars, during the 2019 Hong Kong protests. Three types of imageries and scenarios emerged, i.e., the nation as a charismatic idol in a discursive struggle, a protective brother on a battlefield, and a victimized mother in a trial. These visualizations construct a discursive kinship that justifies China’s governance over Hong Kong and refutes the intervention from foreign ‘hostile forces’ through visualized national strength, state-society unity, and colonial sufferings. During the process, the state provided the ideological mindset and delimited the political boundaries, the fandom participants turned the state-promoted ideas and sentiments into youth-appealing memes, and both sides appropriated and circulated each other’s creations in joint self-defense against outside reproval and opposition. Therefore, the paper argues that this communicative pattern consolidates the state’s discursive co-optation of the society rather than demolishes the authoritarian rule.