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Who is a PRC user? Comparing Chinese social media user agreements

Stockmann, Daniela and Garten, Felix and Luo, Ting (2020) Who is a PRC user? Comparing Chinese social media user agreements. First Monday, 25 (8).

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Abstract

Social media companies rely on user agreements as one means to manage content produced by users. While much has been written on user agreements and community standards of U.S.-based social media, surprisingly little is known about Chinese user agreements and their implications. We compare terms of services as well as privacy policies of WeChat and Weibo between 2014 and 2019 using their U.S. counterparts WhatsApp and Twitter as a benchmark. We find that Chinese user agreements reveal a territorial-based understanding of content management differentiating between PRC and non-PRC users based on language, IP address and country of citizenship. Second, Chinese social media companies are surprisingly transparent about what content can be published, which has implications for self-censorship among users. Third, changes in PRC user agreements reflect Xi Jinping’s tightening control of the Internet. Finally, U.S.-based platforms have moved towards content management that differs by region, thus becoming more similar to the Chinese approach over time.

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