14th journées Louis-André Gérard-Varet

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China's Paid Trolls and the Regime's Incentives to Manipulate Information
Jakub Redlicki

Last modified: 2015-03-15


It has been observed in several countries that online commentators are employed by state-controlled institutions to post pro-government opinions on the Internet. We formally analyse the regimes' incentives to hire such agents in a model with three types of players: the government, online commentators, and citizens. The model provides a theoretical rationale for the empirical finding of King, Pan and Roberts (2013) that the goal of the Chinese censorship programme is to silence comments that may lead to collective action rather than to suppress criticism of the state. Furthermore, we demonstrate that, contrary to intuition, regimes may be more likely to employ online commentators (i) the higher are the citizens' private costs of attacking, (ii) the lower are the portions of the gains from regime change that are accessed only by those who had attacked the regime, and (iii) the higher is the prior mean state of the world. Finally, we show that how well-informed the citizens are about the regime's manipulative practices is an important factor---if the citizens are not so sophisticated as to know the value of the online commentators' payment, the government may have a signal-jamming incentive to employ the commentators even if criticism of the state, rather than the possibility of collective action, is its concern.


Information manipulation; Regime change; Global games