Government censorship—internet shutdowns, blockages, firewalls—impose significant barriers to the transnational flow of information despite the connective power of digital technologies. In this paper, we examine whether and how information flows across borders despite government censorship. We develop a semi-automated system that combines deep learning and human annotation to find co-occurring content across different social media platforms and languages. We use this system to detect co-occurring content between Twitter and Sina Weibo as Covid-19 spread globally, and we conduct in-depth investigations of co-occurring content to identify those that constitute an inflow of information from the global information ecosystem into China. We find that approximately one-fourth of content with relevance for China that gains widespread public attention on Twitter makes its way to Weibo. Unsurprisingly, Chinese state-controlled media and commercialized domestic media play a dominant role in facilitating these inflows of information. However, we find that Weibo users without traditional media or government affiliations are also an important mechanism for transmitting information into China. These results imply that while censorship combined with media control provide substantial leeway for the government to set the agenda, social media provides opportunities for non-institutional actors to influence the information environment. Methodologically, the system we develop offers a new approach for the quantitative analysis of cross-platform and cross-lingual communication.
Repression research examines the causes and consequences of actions or policies that are meant to, or actually do, raise the costs of activism, protest, and/or social movement activity. The rise of digital and social media has brought substantial increases in attention to the repression of digital activists and movements and/or to the use of digital tools in repression, which is spread across many disciplines and areas of study. We organize and review this growing welter of research under the concept of digital repression by expanding a typology that distinguishes actions based on actor type, whether actions are overt or covert, and whether behaviors are shaped by coercion or channeling. This delineation between broadly different forms of digital repression allows researchers to develop expectations about digital repression, better understand what is “new” about digital repression in terms of explanatory factors, and better understand the consequences of digital repression.
In Strategy in the Contemporary World, edited by John Baylis, James J. Wirtz, and Jeannie L. Johnson, Oriana Skylar Mastro examines the evolution of Chinese grand strategy from Mao Zedong to Xi Jinping, its drivers, and its implications.
The Project on Middle East Political Science partnered with Stanford University’s Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law and its Global Digital Policy Incubator for an innovative two week online seminar to explore the issues surrounding digital activism and authoritarianism. This workshop was built upon more than a decade of our collaboration on issues related to the internet and politics in the Middle East, beginning in 2011 with a series of workshops in the “Blogs and Bullets” project supported by the United States Institute for Peace and the PeaceTech Lab. This new collaboration brought together more than a dozen scholars and practitioners with deep experience in digital policy and activism, some focused on the Middle East and others offering a global and comparative perspective. POMEPS STUDIES 43 collects essays from that workshop, shaped by two weeks of public and private discussion.