You Won’t Believe How the Chinese Government Uses Clickbait!
Visiting Speaker
Past Event
Jennifer Pan
Assistant Professor of Communication, Assistant Professor of Political Science and Sociology, Stanford University
Tuesday
Mar 10, 2020
Watch video
12:00 pm
177 Huntington Ave
11th floor

There is a growing consensus that political propaganda in the age of mass media worked, shaping attitudes and behaviors in favor of governments by suppressing alternative media sources and dominating public attention. What happens to political propaganda in the age of digital media? In the digital context, political actors do not automatically dominate systems of information transmission even when they successfully deploy online censorship. Online censorship can reshape the contours of what information is available on social media, but censorship does not decrease the overall volume of information. The constraints and opportunities provided by modern social media platforms, which are generally built on an ad-revenue model and therefore aim to maximize clicks, are transforming the ways which governments engage in propaganda online. In this paper, we use ethnographic fieldwork to show how producers of propaganda in China face incentives to capture clicks. We then collect and analyze posts made by over 200 Chinese city-government WeChat accounts to show how "clickbait"---the process of providing just enough information in a headline so as to grab the reader’s attention by creating an information gap---features prominently in governments’ propaganda strategies. While governments' use of clickbait is associated with more views, it does not predict more positive assessments of content.

This paper is co-authored with Yingdan Lu, a PhD student in Communication at Stanford.

About the speaker
Jennifer Pan is an Assistant Professor of Communication, and an Assistant Professor, by courtesy, of Political Science and Sociology at Stanford University. Her research is at the intersection of political communication, computational social science, and authoritarian politics. Pan focuses on how autocrats control information to shape public preferences and behaviors in the digital age, using experimental and computational methods with large-scale datasets on political activity in China and other non-democratic regimes. Her work has appeared in peer-reviewed publications such as the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, The Journal of Politics, and Science. Pan received her Ph.D. from Harvard University’s Department of Government, and she received her A.B. from the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. More information on her work can be found at jenpan.com.