WeChat as a Semipublic Alternative Sphere: Exploring the Use of WeChat Among Chinese Older Adults

Lei Guo


In China, the emergence of WeChat—a comprehensive mobile application—has introduced millions of older adults to the digital world. This study conceptualizes the use of WeChat among Chinese older adults from the theoretical framework of alternative media. Based on four focus group discussions in Shanghai, China, with 35 individuals aged 50 years or older, the study found that WeChat exposes many Chinese older adults—for the first time—to a large amount of controversial information and viewpoints that are critical of the official discourse; it also enables some of them to participate in civic life online. The research also reveals a number of constraints such as Internet censorship and WeChat’s profit-driven environment, which to a large extent limit the potential of the mobile application to facilitate alternative communication among this group of people.


alternative media, digital divide, social networking sites, mobile communication, ICT, civic engagement, public sphere, older adults, WeChat

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