ICYMI (In Case You Missed It), the following work was presented at the 2018 Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA). The presentation, titled “When Does Online Censorship Move Toward Real-World Repression?” was a part of the Chinese Politics Mini-Conference on Thursday, August 30, 2018.
The Chinese government asserts power and control through strict management of online information. Often, this comes in the form of censorship of online content, which is handled by private internet content producers, large companies like Sina Weibo and Tencent. However, in certain cases these companies report users and content back to the government rather than simply censoring it.
What content, and which users, are being targeted for handling by the state? Researchers Mary Gallagher and Blake Miller analyzed leaked documents from Sina Weibo, a popular Twitter-like social networking site, to find out why certain cases were moved back to government handling.
Control dynamics over time
Throughout the 1990s, the Chinese government became more tolerant of people protesting the socio-economic effects of market reforms. The government became more selective about its tactics, focusing on preempting major challenges, while allowing reasonable grievances to be aired, especially those aimed at lower-level local officials.
Gallagher and Miller point out that this apparent rise in tolerance does not mean that repression has disappeared. Rather, the state has moved into a period of “responsive authoritarianism” in which repression is harder to detect, more pre-emptive, and more sophisticated.
An evolving approach to censorship
The rise of social media has been a game-changer for both the state and social movements. As technology makes it easier to share information and express grievances, the government is able to track and repress public opinion and outcry in a more precise way. Discussions of topics such as environmental degradation, food safety, or lapses in public safety can be shared more widely, building support for reforms.
As online groups gain popularity, there has been a shift in government behavior to shutting down these groups, not necessarily because they are expressing subversive ideas, but because they may develop the power to persuade. The state uses a “scalpel, not a hammer” to censor, targeting groups that may become influential. This gives the perception that speech is more free, while quashing groups before they can influence public opinion, potentially disrupting order.
Managing influencers and controversies
By analyzing a leaked dataset of internal censorship logs from Sina Weibo, Gallagher and Miller were able to explore patterns in the types of content and users reported back to the security bureaus.
They found that the party is primarily concerned with limiting alternative voices and influence, and they do that by inhabiting and dominating social media platforms. The government is intolerant of topics once they go viral. To prevent sensitive topics from going viral in the first place, the party looks closely at influential opinion leaders. As Gallagher and Miller note, “the content of the post is less important than who is posting it.” The state seeks to head off the threat of the “butterfly effect” by containing a small incident quickly before it can grow in influence over time.
Online opinion leaders are seen as a threat to the government that must be handled carefully. because they stand between the mass media and the public. Most often, the state response to these influencers is not to censor them immediately, but to report them back to the government. This way, the party cultivates opinion leaders to identify with the party, so that they may be able to shape public opinion favorably in the event of a “public opinion emergency.”
Censors allow a great deal of online discussion to take place, while at the same time targeting users who are believed to have enough influence to cause real damage. By allowing more speech, the state gains a window into public opinion. However, when discussions pick up momentum, or begin to criticize the government, censors will work to guide discussions and report users and content back to the state.
If you are attending the 2018 annual meeting of the American Political Science Association (APSA) in Boston, you may be interested in one or more of the sessions listed below that make use of data from the American National Election Studies (ANES).
When you arrive at APSA, please verify the below room locations in the final conference program, as they are subject to change.
Thursday, August 30, 2018
Panel: Item Response Theory
Noon to 1:30pm, Marriott, Provincetown
Presentation: Hierarchical Item Response Models for Analyzing Public Opinion
by Xiang Zhou, Harvard University
In this paper, the author presents a class of hierarchical item response theory (IRT) models that can be fruitfully applied to analyze public opinion data. In this approach, individual responses to multiple items result from a latent preference that follows a normal prior, in which both the mean and the variance may depend on observed covariates.
Panel: Health Status as a Predictor of Political Behavior and Attitudes
2:00 to 3:30pm, Marriott, Tufts
Presentation: Partisanship and Political Participation Among People with Disabilities
by Sierra Powell, Mount San Antonio College and April A. Johnson, Kennesaw State University
Analyzing data from the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study and the 2012 and 2016 American National Election Studies, the authors conclude that having a disability is positively related to identifying as a Democrat, to identifying with liberal ideological orientations, and to Democratic vote choice.
Panel: Collective Action and Deliberation in the Digital Era
4:00 to 5:30pm. Hynes, 104
Presentation: Duty to Vote– and to Do What Else?
by Jennifer Oser, Ben-Gurion University
In this study the author analyzes data from the American National Election Studies 2016 survey that includes new and comprehensive questions about civic duty, along with questions regarding a variety of political acts, including activities beyond the electoral. In addition to the expected positive relationship between duty and voting in the general election, it is plausible to expect that duty will also act as a determinant of additional electoral-oriented political acts, such as down-ballot voting and political campaign activity.
Panel: The Psychology of Political Polarization in Comparative Perspective
4:00 to 5:30pm, Marriott, Simmons
Presentation: The Nature of Partisan Stereotypes and Mass Polarization, 2008-2016
by Ethan C. Busby, Northwestern University; Adam Howat, Northwestern University; Richard M. Shafranek, Northwestern University
The authors look to explore how the public’s relative tendency to think about partisans in these different ways varies with time and how this variation relates to over-time changes in mass polarization. To do so, they employ structural topic modeling to examine open-ended responses regarding both major political parties from the 2008, 2012, and 2016 American National Election Studies.
Friday, August 31, 2018
Panel: Gender and the Importance of Campaign Staff and Family
8:00 to 9:30am, Hynes, 103
Presentation: Billary: Did it Matter? Yes.
by Sara Angevine, Whittier College and Keelin Anne Bettridge, Whittier College
Though race, gender, and partisanship are frequent explanations, one unique factor to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is her spousal relationship to former US President Bill Clinton. In this paper, the authors apply multivariate regression analysis to 2016 American National Election Studies data to distill the impact of this marital relationship on perceptions of Hillary Clinton’s competence and likability as a presidential candidate.
Panel: The Political Psychology of Race and Racial Attitudes
10:00 to 11:30am, Marriott, Salon B
Presentation: Spurring Latino Issue Activism: Mobilization Efforts Combining Fear and Hope
by Vanessa Cruz Nicholas, Indiana University
In this study, the author re-assesses the hypothesis that exposure to threatening political messages is a necessary and sufficient condition to encourage political activism among Latinos.
Panel: This Panel Is About Democratic Values
noon to 1:30pm, Marriott, Provincetown
Presentation: Democracy and the Other: Outgroup Attitudes and Support for Anti-Democratic Norms
by Beyza Ekin Buyuker, University of Illinois at Chicago
This study examines if and under what conditions dominant groups within a democratic public come to support anti-democratic norms. Using data from the World Values Survey (2011) and the American National Election Studies (2016), the author tests both prejudice and realistic competition for material and political resources as drivers of dominant group’s support for anti-democratic norms.
Presentation: The Value Structures of Democratic Attitudes
by Jessica Defenderfer, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania
The author examines the effect of value structures on trust in government, political efficacy, and political interest. She operationalizes values with the Schwartz Portrait Values Questionnaire, testing the relationship of these structures to democratic attitudes in World Values Survey 2006 and 2011, the ANES 2006 Pilot Study, and from an original survey of 2300 Americans hosted by Qualtrics in 2015.
Panel: Trade, Polarization, and Elections
2:00 to 3:30pm, Sheraton, Gardner
Presentation: Why Does Import Competition Favor Republicans?
by Federico Maria Ferrara, University of Geneva; Francesco Ruggieri, University of Chicago; Andrea Cerrato
Using individual-level survey data from the 2008-2016 American National Election Studies, the authors provide evidence that exogenous shocks from Chinese import competition drive negative attitudes towards immigrants and minorities, among which Latinos, Asians, and Muslims are most targeted.
Panel: Methods for Administrative Data and Record Linkage
2:00 to 3:30pm, Marriott, Simmons
Presentation: Validating Turnout by Linking Public Opinion Surveys with Administrative Data
by Ted Enamorado, Princeton University and Kosuke Imai, Harvard University
The authors apply a canonical probabilistic record linkage model, implemented via the open-source software package fastLink, to merge two major election studies — the ANES and the Cooperative Congressional Election Survey (CCES) — with a national voter file of over 180 million records. For both ANES and CCES, fastLink successfully produces a validated turnout rate close to the official turnout rate. Using these merged data sets, they show that the bias of self-reported turnout originates primarily from misreporting rather than survey non-response or inadvertent mobilization.
Panel: The Political Psychology of Gender
2:00 to 3:30pm, Marriott, Suffolk
Presentation: The Political Psychology of Gender: Ambivalent Sexism and Public Opinion in 2016
by Nicholas Winter, University of Virginia
This paper explores the political psychology of gender stereotypes and prejudice. The author draws on Glick and Fiske’s (1996) argument that contemporary sexism encompasses two faces: one involving hostile, prejudicial attitudes and the second involving benevolent feelings toward women that are superficially positive but disempowering.
Panel: Religion and the Vote
4:00 to 5:30pm, Marriott, Fairfield
Presentation: Religious Voting in the 2016 Presidential Election: Testing Alternative Theories
by James L. Guth, Furman University; Lyman Kellstedt, Wheaton College; Corwin E. Smidt, Calvin College
In this paper, the authors examine the voting patterns among America’s increasingly diverse ethnoreligious groups, and consider the role that theological differentiation has played in producing partisan alignments.
Presentation: Serving Two Masters: Status Anxiety and the 2016 White Evangelical Value Shift
by Wayde ZC Marsh, University of Notre Dame
Using data from the American National Election Studies presidential election surveys from 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016, the author develops and argues for a Dimensions of Anxiety model to explain a shift in white evangelical voting behavior in 2016 and the ways that status anxiety reflects dissatisfaction with American democracy.
Presentation: The Politics of Evangelicals: Race and the Value Voters
by Ryan L. Claassen, Kent State University
This paper will be devoted to developing a deeper empirical understanding of the political motivations of evangelical voters. Is Trump’s support among evangelicals similar to the support Wallace and Goldwater received (elections when issues of racial inequality were front and center)? Or have the culture wars overtaken the racial politics of the 1960s and created new political alliances?
Saturday, September 1, 2018
Panel: Courts and the Media
8:00 to 9:30am, Hynes, 303
Presentation: The Presidency, Partisan Cues, and Public Perception of the U.S. Supreme Court
by Ali Shiraz Masood, California State University
Ryan Strickler, University of South Carolina
The authors’ key expectation is that partisan public’s views of the Supreme Court and the individual justices change based on the changes in the White House. They test these expectations by analyzing panel and cross-sectional survey data from the American National Election Studies, Cooperative Congressional Election Studies, and other studies that span periods where the Presidency changed parties, but the makeup of the Court remained the same (such as 2008 to 2009).
Panel: Religion and LGBTQI Issues
10:00 to 11:30am, Marriott, Exeter
Presentation: Gay Is the Opposite of Fundamentalist: Political Symbolism Among American Elites
by Darel E. Paul, Williams College
Through analysis of the 2008, 2012, and 2016 American National Election Studies, this paper finds that gay men and lesbians play that positive social and political role. Their symbolic status as the opposites to “fundamentalists” helps explain the remarkable transformation in social status and legal standing of LGBT persons since the early 1990s, a transformation effected by American elites.
Panel: This Panel Is About Quasi-Experiments
2:00 to 3:30pm, Marriott, Wellesley
Presentation: Changing Countries, Changing Preferences.
by Julia Rubio, Columbia University and Oscar Pocasangre, Columbia University
This paper uses a natural experiment design to test the effect of moving to the United States on the political preferences of Latinos. Using external shocks such as changes in US immigration policy after natural disasters in Latin American countries, the authors test if the political preferences of those who stay are different from those who migrate.
Sunday, September 2, 2018
Panel: Gender Gaps and Elections
10:00 to 11:30am, Marriott, Regis
Presentation: Gender Differences in Ideological Sorting
by Heather L. Ondercin, Wichita State University and Mary Kate Lizotte, Augusta University
This paper examines within and between sex variation in the dynamics of ideology through analysis of ideological sorting, polarization, and consistency between symbolic and operational ideology. The authors investigate if there is a gender gap in operational ideology and how that operational ideological gender gap has changed over time.
Panel: Gender Gaps and Elections
10:00 to 11:30am, Marriott, Regis
Presentation: Where to Focus that Reclaimed Time? Gender, Race, & Americans’ Issue Priorities
by Melody Crowder-Meyer, Davidson College
In this paper, the author evaluates whether Americans with various racial and gender identities differ in the issues they prioritize by using a unique research design: analyzing open-ended responses to survey questions about the most important problems facing our country and reasons for liking or disliking political parties and political figures. She does so using data from the 2008, 2012, and 2016 American National Election Studies.
Panel: Parties, Partisanship, and Elections
10:00 to 11:30am, Sheraton, Beacon H
Presentation: Partisan Realignment in the United States. The Micro-Logic of Party Switching
by Herbert Kitschelt, Duke University and Philipp Rehm, Ohio State University
This paper explores the micro-logic that underpins this secular, incremental realignment process. Why did so many voters in these different groups shift their party allegiances? What are the policy motivations that make voters switch across political parties? Are these policy orientations distinctive to voters who abandon one of the two parties, compared to voters who abandon the other party? How do these motivations relate to the parties’ programmatic appeals?