The Dual Impact of Social Media Under Networked Authoritarianism: Social Media Use, Civic Attitudes, and System Support in China
Although beliefs in the impact of the Internet on democratization did not quickly materialize, recent research on the linkage between social media use and political engagement has reignited optimism about the democratic influence of new media technologies. At the same time, scholars have noted the capability of authoritarian states to exercise effective control of the Internet and manipulate the online public opinion environment. This study argues that social media can promote elements of a civic culture and system support simultaneously where the state practices networked authoritarianism. Analysis of a survey of university students in Guangzhou, China, shows that public affairs communication via social media relates positively and significantly to five elements of a civic culture: political knowledge, social trust, sense of civic duty, internal efficacy, and collective efficacy. Meanwhile, social media–based public affairs communication does not undermine system support; it even has a strong relationship with optimism about the Chinese government.