Table of Contents

Comment Icon0 From the proposed research questions, the goal of this dissertation is two-fold: 1) To learn whether Internet regulation contributes to the development of China’s civil society; and 2) To examine the Chinese government’s Internet policy and regulation, and observe the differences in motivations for Internet use between government and citizens.

Comment Icon0 To reach these goals, relevant media theories on developmental communication and Internet use have to be utilized. As we shift from the traditional capital-based economy to an information-centric economy in the 21st century, social scientists and communication scholars have been deliberating on how information and communication technology (ICT), governments and civil society at large, interact with one another. Some take the technological deterministic perspective, where they believe that technological innovation largely determines social progress. The Internet’s supposed decentralized nature encourages active, democratic and collective participation of all social members in the “global village” (Benkler, 2006; Castells, 1996; McLuhan, 1967). On a similar note, Uses and Gratification (U&G) researchers also share the assumption that media audiences are active, but they ask the question in a different direction: “What do people do with media?”, rather than “What do media do to people?” (Blumler & McQuail, 1969; Katz & Foulkes, 1962; Lazarfeld, Berelson, & Gaudet, 1944). Alternatively, other scholars argue that media monopolies controlled by the government or private corporations are the major sources of influence on national culture, producing “false needs”, shaping the “great audience” and nurturing massive consumerism (Carey & Quirk,1989; Lessig, 1999; Schiller, 1989). Finally, there are others who claim that institutional forces, from neighborhood schools to non-profit grassroot groups, are the major factors that bring about social change (Fuller, 1991; McChesney, 1996; Meyer & Scott, 1992; Mody, Bauer & Straubhaar, 1995).

Comment Icon0 Majority of earlier survey researches on Internet users focused on who they were and what they did online. Less attention was given to user motivations for using the Internet in general and why members participate through conversation in specific online communities. The Pew Internet and the American Life reports often highlight usage patterns as part of their user demographic surveys, but they rarely go in-depth in studying the motivations for Internet use (Horrigan & Rainie, 2002; Madden, 2003). The Uses and Gratifications approach assumes that the user has motives for using particular media and communication technology, and can expect to fulfill specific outcomes for that interaction (Blumler and Katz, 1974; Charney and Greenberg, 2002; Palmgreen, 1984; Rubin, Pearce and Barbato, 1988). Media choice is affected by the user’s social and psychological characteristics, access, skill and experience (Torkazadeh and Van Dyke, 2002; Anandarajan, Simmers and Igbaria, 2000; Durndell and Haag, 2002; Ferguson and Perse, 2000). This overview of Uses and Gratifications literature provides cursory methods for understanding the effectiveness of government policy decision-making (Charney and Greensberg, 2002). In guiding research questions and measurement instruments, the theory could be generalized as an abstract conceptual model seen in Figure 1.

Comment Icon0 Figure 1: Conceptual model of uses and gratification for Chinese netizens
Figure 1: Conceptual model of uses and gratification for Chinese netizens

Comment Icon0 Determinants for this study are based off measures used in previous Internet media related Uses and Gratification studies (Grace-Farfaglia, Dekkers, Sundararajan, Peters, & Park, 2006; Stafford, Stafford & Schkade, 2004). To account for recent revelations of public deliberations as well as the PEW reports of Chinese citizens preference for regulation on the Internet, considerations of trust in peer produced media versus established media agencies online (e.g. personal blogs vs newspaper websites), are measured under the News Credibility Scale (Gaziano & McGrath, 1986). As for how citizens prefer online news to be managed (through self censorship or government regulation), this is assessed through the Locus of Control Scale (Rotter, 1954). The determinants in this conceptual model include:

Comment Icon0 1. Attitudes towards the Internet: Defined as the evaluation of past experience, expectations and self-efficacy. Separate indices were developed for Internet satisfaction and self-efficacy. Items for this measure were selected from a variety of published sources (Anandarajan, Simmers, & Igbaria, 2000; LaRose, Mastro, & Eastin, 2001; Torkzadeh & Van Dyke, 2001). Both locus of control and news credibility also reflect attitudes but they are measured separately as they have their own established measurement scales.

Comment Icon0 2. Community Involvement: An itemized measure that asks about the strength of involvement of the participant in offline and online communities modified from the Community and Social Involvement Index (Weiser, 2001). The average of how active the participant was for the communities in which the user has claimed membership. Activity would include the collective production of user-generated content as a grassroots trend explained through Habermas’ Public Sphere (1989), Benkler’s Peer Production (2006) and Clay Shirky’s concept of ‘protest culture’ (2008).

Comment Icon0 3. Social Support: Indicates how close the participant currently feels to various other people in his or her life. Measures include type of activities and intensity of relationships. This provides the basis for linking Internet use with social values (Zhu & He, 2002; Hofstede, 2001).

Comment Icon0 4. Demographics: Take into account participant’s gender, age, principal language, secondary language, residence, education, country of origin, family composition and income.

Comment Icon0 5. Locus of Control: Julian Rotter’s Locus of Control (1954) exists as an important aspect of personality and is understood in the perceived degree of having internal or external control of one’s environment. In the case of this study of Internet use in China, a high internal locus of control would indicate that Chinese netizens prefer control over their own media consumption (e.g. self-censorship), while a high external locus of control would indicate that they feel overwhelmed and unable to manage it on their own, thus preferring a higher authority, such as the government, to manage the media environment.

Comment Icon0 6. News Credibility: Gaziano and McGrath’s News Credibility Scale, the objective would be to clarify how Chinese netizens prefer their online media consumption to be managed. Do they prefer it to be liberated and self-censored, or to have a higher authority to control and regulate on their behalf? This particular issue was ambiguously discovered in the Pew Internet study on China’s Internet users (Fallows, 2008), where the apparent citizen request for Internet control stemmed from the increasing number of Chinese media reports linking the Internet to unfortunate events, often invasively personal, highly detailed and heavy in human interest. Do Chinese citizens actually prefer the Internet to be regulated, or the more accessible news media to be regulated?

Comment Icon0 The Uses variable in this conceptual model is measured by the amount of time, frequency, quality of use, as well as the Internet connection in terms of location (e.g. home, work, school and cybercafé) and the type of access (e.g. telephone, DSL, cable, satellite and wireless). The criterion variables include: 1) Gratifications relate to motivation for behavior such as information seeking, entertainment, surveillance, personal relationship, identity and acquisition (Charney and Greenberg, 2002; Papacharissi and Rubin, 2000; LaRose, Mastro and Eastin, 2001; Lin and Atkin, 2002; Stafford and Stafford, 2001); and 2) Media Satisfaction refers to changes in other media use. That is, the perceived satisfaction with television, cable, satellite, TV, radio, wired telephone, mobile phone, newspapers and magazines due to Internet participation (Lin, 2001).

Comment Icon0 Finally, to collect these results, the investigation employs a qualitative approach, with data gathered through survey questionnaires, as well as Internet-related policy documents. The specific methods to data collection will include: 1) content analysis of user-generated content online, a result of peer production; 2) open- and close-ended survey questionnaires; 3) Internet policies and official statistics documents; and 4) related academic journal articles. Unlike most of the present scholarly work in this field, this study hopes to provide a richer account of the Internet phenomenon as experienced by various agencies of online participants. This would eventually help in ascertaining existing theories about the interplay between the state, individual citizens and Internet service providers.

Chapter 1.4 – Research Approach


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