Engagement or control? The impact of the Chinese environmental protection bureaus’ burgeoning online presence in local environmental governance
Journal of Environmental Planning and Management. July 2019 [Link]
Since 2011, Chinese environmental authorities have undertaken a project of “occupying” online spaces and social media such as Weibo. This has been analysed alternatively as an attempt to improve environmental governance, or as a new tool of control over online environmental discourses. This article investigates the use of microblogs by 172 local environmental authorities in Shandong province, whose multi-level microblogging system is seen as a model for other provinces, analysing whether this system improves environmental governance, and whether this objective is impeded by practices aimed at controlling online environmental discourse. We find limited evidence of improved environmental governance, as attested by enhanced information disclosure and citizen engagement. Instead, Environmental Protection Bureau communication appears obstructed by floods of diversionary content. We suggest that while these behaviours are likely driven by misaligned incentives and fears of triggering social unrest, they also support the goal of discursive control by occupation.
This project receives funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Grant Agreement No 722826.