Digital Surveillance with Knowledge Production: How the Chinese Government Manages Online Public Opinion in the Era of Big Data

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 18:00
Oral Presentation
An increasing number of Chinese governmental agencies have begun to purchase the service of data-based technology to monitor and guide online opinion. Although this trend is criticized by Western medias as the rising digital totalitarianism, the industry of monitoring online opinion still enjoys a rapid expansion in China. Why does this so-called anti-democracy surveillance receive little resistance from the civil society?What strategy have Chinese authorities and surveillance-service providers adopted to embellish this form of surveillance? What theoretical implications could be developed to frame the state-market cooperation in Chinese Internet regulation?

By visiting 6 surveillance-service providers in Beijing and interviewing 43 practitioners in this industry, this work explores the mechanism through which the Chinese government utilizes commercialized data technology to regulate Internet dissent. Faced with the irreversible Internet popularization, Chinese authorities utilize the market mechanism to transfer ICT into their governance tool. Through purchasing the Internet opinion surveillance system which is based on technologies like data mining, sentiment analysis and cloud computing, Chinese governments conduct real-time surveillance on netizens’ posts and make timely reaction to possible threats to social stability. Besides, with the rise of this industry, a special set of knowledge and discourse about Internet opinion is produced to emphasize the hazard of online rumors and the risk of uncontrolled free speech on the Internet. By issuing official policy documents, publishing textbooks and carrying out training programs on managing Internet public opinion, the Chinese government and surveillance-service providers legitimize their behavior of monitoring online opinion through highlighting its necessity. This work argues that online opinion surveillance in China and its accompanying knowledge-discourse production provides us with a typical case showing how a certain form of big-data technology becomes a non-democratic regime's governance tool, and it also displays what change the development of ICT brings to authoritarian regimes' Internet control.