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China Businesses Hijack Environmental Issues in Social Media

The government and corporations in China managed to hijack the issues regarding environment such as air pollution, raised by online activists in social media, a study suggests.

While the online activists did force the Chinese government to take some actions to tackle the pollution problem, the business and government spheres dominated much of the conversation and used it to their own advantage, the researchers found.

“Social media has been touted as a ‘liberation technology’ for citizens, but we found the story was not so straightforward in China,” said Daniel Sui, co-author of the study and professor of geography at Ohio State University in the US.

“Citizens acting online made some real changes to how the government handled the air pollution problem, but government and corporations used the same online tools to advance their own agendas as well,” Sui added.

The researchers analysed about 250,000 posts on the Chinese social media site Sina Weibo (similar to Twitter) that discussed the pollution problem in the country.

They found that more than 80 percent of the top accounts belonged to government sources, companies or other organisations, while only 20 percent belonged to individuals.

Corporations used Sina Weibo to push products specifically designed to ease the concern of anxious citizens.

The attitude of corporations was that Chinese citizens could simply avoid the air pollution problem – if they could afford to buy these specialized products.

The Chinese government’s response was to view air pollution as a scientific problem rather than a political one.

The study appeared online in the journal The Professional Geographer. (IANS)


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