Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 11/2012

Battle Lines in the Chinese Blogosphere: Keyword control as a tactic in managing mass incidents

Keegan Elmer

October 2012

Finnish Institute for International Affairs


This paper explores the role of keyword control, in other words the blocking and unblocking of search keywords, on Sina’s popular microblog platform during media campaigns over politically sensitive issues in China. The author examines media campaigns in Chinese newspapers, television, microblogs and other media forms during two separate large-scale protests in December of 2011 in Guangdong province, one in the village of Wukan and the other in the town of Haimen. This paper uses these case studies to examine which acts of keyword control might be part of a set of coordinated directives in a broader media campaign over a particular politically sensitive issue. Observations based on these case studies suggest that changes in keyword control on microblogs might be the earliest detectable sign of shifts in the government’s position in their response to politically sensitive issues.