The Elihu Katz Colloquium Series welcomes Jennifer Pan of Stanford University to give a lecture entitled "How the Chinese Government Fabricates Social Media Posts for Strategic Distraction, Not Engaged Argument."
The Chinese government has long been suspected of hiring as many as 2 million people to surreptitiously insert huge numbers of pseudonymous and other deceptive writings into the stream of real social media posts, as if they were the genuine opinions of ordinary people. Many academics, and most journalists and activists, claim that these so-called 50c party posts vociferously argue for the government’s side in political and policy debates. As Pan will discuss, this is also true of most posts openly accused on social media of being 50c. Yet almost no systematic empirical evidence exists for this claim or, more importantly, for the Chinese regime’s strategic objective in pursuing this activity. In the first large-scale empirical analysis of this operation, Pan shows how to identify the secretive authors of these posts, the posts written by them, and their content. In contrast to prior claims, we show that the Chinese regime’s strategy is to avoid arguing with skeptics of the party and the government, and to not even discuss controversial issues. Pan will discuss that the goal of this massive secretive operation is instead to distract the public and change the subject. She will discuss how these results fit with what is known about the Chinese censorship program and suggest how they may change our broader theoretical understanding of information control in authoritarian regimes.
About Jennifer Pan
Jennifer Pan is an Assistant Professor of Communication, and an Assistant Professor, by courtesy, of Political Science and Sociology at Stanford University. She focuses on the politics of authoritarian (non-democratic) countries in the digital age; how autocrats constrain collective action through online censorship, propaganda, and responsiveness; how information proliferation influences the ability of authoritarian regimes to conduct surveillance; and how public preferences are arranged and formed. Pan combines experimental and computational methods with large-scale datasets on political activity in China and other authoritarian regimes to examine these questions. Pan’s work has appeared in peer reviewed publications such as the American Political Science Review, American Journal of Political Science, Comparative Political Studies, Journal of Politics, and Science.
Pan advises students, typically with backgrounds in statistics, computer science, and applied math, interested in using quantitative methods to study political communication in non-democratic countries.
Pan received her Ph.D. from Harvard University’s Department of Government in 2015. She graduated from Princeton University, summa cum laude, in 2004, and until 2009, she was a consultant at McKinsey & Company based in New York and Beijing. Pan has also worked for the Chinese Center for Disease Control and the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative.