Mobile Phone Rumors as “Weapons of the Weak”: Mobile Communication and Contentious Politics in Contemporary China
This paper examines the characteristics and nature of mobile phone rumor in contemporary China. By focusing on several concrete case studies with 57 in-depth interviews, this study observes that mobile phone rumor has evolved into a special form of “weapons of the weak” at the grassroots level. The low-cost and user-friendly mobile device lowers the average protest threshold, creating an unprecedented opportunity for citizens, in particular those without complicated communication skills, to show their disobedience and organize and participate in resistance. The mutual visibility of mobile communication greatly increases both credibility of information and sense of security for participation. Additionally, the synchronous mobile communication accumulates rumor discourse into resistance in a very short time. As a kind of contentious politics, mobile phone rumors demonstrate the opposition to government censorship and control over communication, and most important, the protest against the use of the accusation of “rumor” by authorities to stifle any different voices.
Jun Liu is a PhD fellow in the Department of Media, Cognition and Communication at the University of Copenhagen. His main research interest focuses on the interrelationship among media, social movement and democratization processes in China with particular attention to the importance of new media and communications technologies including the internet and telecommunications.