DP16731 Social Media and Collective Action in China

Author(s): Bei Qin, David Strömberg, Yanhui Wu
Publication Date: November 2021
Programme Areas: Development Economics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=16731

This paper studies how social media affect protest dynamics in China during 2009-2017. Based on 13.2 billion microblog posts, we use tweets and retweets to measure social media communication across cities and exploit its rapid expansion for identification. We find that despite strict government control, Chinese social media have a sizeable effect on the geographic spread of protests and strikes. While the spread effect is short-lived and predominantly between similar events, social media considerably increase the scope of protests. Further empirical results and textual analysis show that the effect is likely to be driven by tacit coordination and emotional reactions rather than explicit coordination and sharing tactics. Our study sheds light on the debate regarding whether social media help strengthen authoritarian regimes.