Building the Wall: How Identity Politics Facilitates Information Control in China

Image Created by MidJouney with the following prompt: “There is a king wearing a crown standing on the sky, and he tears the earth apart with his hands. There are two groups of people standing on either side of this crack. Those people on both sides of the crack are arguing with each other but with their mouth sealed. The king is looking at the two groups of people with an evil smile.”


Fears surrounding foreign influence and the proliferation of misinformation have prompted social media companies and governments globally to implement measures aimed at restricting or flagging non-local users' participation on large-scale platforms. However, these efforts may inadvertently compromise user privacy and impede freedom of expression. In this study, I examine a sudden policy shift on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, which sought to curb foreign influence by disclosing users' locations at the time of posting. As anticipated, I observe that this decrease in anonymity engenders a chilling effect, leading to diminished public discussion and political criticism of the Chinese government. Intriguingly, I also discover that unveiling users' IP addresses heightens the prominence of geographical identity politics in China, fostering animosity among localities and reducing cross-cutting dialogue on local political issues. I offer an analysis of the broader implications of reducing online user anonymity on political discourse and identity politics.

Working Paper