On the Geopolitics of “Platforms”

//Robyn Caplan is one of the ten 2015 Milton Wolf Emerging Scholar Fellows, an accomplished group of doctoral and advanced MA candidates selected to attend the 2015 Milton Wolf Seminar. Their posts highlight the critical themes and on-going debates raised during the 2015 Seminar discussions.

In the last year, questions about the roles that both non-traditional and traditional media play in the filtering of geopolitical events and policy have begun to increase. Though traditional sources such as The New York Times retain their influence, social media platforms and other online information sources are becoming the main channels through which news and information is produced and circulated. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Weibo, and other micro-blogging services bring the news directly to the people. According to a study by Parse.ly, the era of searching for information is ending—fewer referrals to news sites are coming from Google, with the difference in traffic made up by social media networks (McGee, 2014; Napoli, 2014).

It isn’t just news organizations that are finding greater success online. Heads of state—most famously President Obama—have used social networks to reach…

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Lost and Found: Collections of Censored Posts on Sina Weibo

Ran Liu, a graduate student in Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, discusses China’s censorship of Weibo through an analysis of NGO ProPublica’s new “China’s Memory Hole” project.

Most netizens in China have complained about the “Little Secretary,” the censorship mechanism on the most popular Chinese microblog service Sina Weibo. Content may disappear at any minute only to be replaced by an ambiguous notice that a “post is inappropriate to display publicly.”  Users find it difficult to anticipate whether their posts will live the day as censorship logic is, while sometimes predictable, more often than not quite elusive.

Scholars are exploring the mechanisms of censorship on the Chinese Internet to better discern Chinese censorship practices. For instance, a recent study at Harvard University led by Gary King discovered that messages discussing or invoking collective actions are more likely to get censored. That is to say, “censorship is oriented towards attempting to forestall collective activities that are occurring now or may occur in the future.”[i] A new book from China Specialist Jason Ng also discusses key words blocked on Weibo.

The new project “China’s Memory Hole,” by the New York based NGO ProPublica, provides a more intuitive and interactive demonstration of China’s Internet censorship. From July 24to August 4, 2013, ProPublica tracked 100 Weibo accounts to detect censored images, collecting a total of…

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