Online Public Opinion as an Agenda-builder in the Issue Development of China
China has the largest Internet population in the world. Despite rigorous online censorship, the Internet provides a public space for average netizens to express their opinions and engage in public affairs. Online public opinion has begun to influence traditional media coverage and prompted the Chinese government to take actions to address the issues of highly concern to Chinese netizens. Within the theoretical frameworks of agenda setting and agenda building, this study attempts to examine the influence of online public opinion on media coverage and government decision-making in the issue development of China. Through the analysis of two high-profile cases in 2009 and 2010, it proposes an issue development model to understand the role of online public opinion in the dynamic agenda-setting and agenda-building process within Chinese specific socio-political context. The model suggests that the issue development goes through five stages: the emergence phase, the spill-over phase, the upswing phase, the downswing phase, and the resolution phase. This study shows that online public opinion has emerged as a rising social force and a competing agenda-builder, pushing the issue up the media and government agendas. Although the life cycle of an issue on the Internet is relatively short because netizens’ attention to an issue can quickly decline and shift to other issues, the influence of online public opinion in individual cases can have an incremental effect on the democratization of China in the long run.
Yunjuan Luo is an assistant professor in the College of Mass Communications at Texas TechUniversity. Her research interests include political communication, international communication,new media, and communication theory, particularly agenda-setting theory. Her current researchfocuses on the social and political impact of new media in China and the U.S. She earned hermaster’s degree in mass communication from Nanyang Technological University in 2004 andher Ph.D. in mass communication from Indiana University in 2011. Her work has appeared inrefereed journals such as International Communication Gazette, Feminist Media Studies, and the Chinese Journal of Communication.