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BCCN Online Lecture Series #4: Digital Control and Emotions Under Autocracy

11.01.2024 | 14:15 - 15:45
Poster Danqi Guo Genia Kostka

Poster Danqi Guo Genia Kostka

Danqi Guo and Genia Kostka (Freie Universität Berlin)


This lecture series is hosted by the Berlin Contemporary China Network (BCCN), an initiative by researchers at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, and Technische Universität Berlin. It is organized by Freie Universität Berlin. Here you can find an overview of the lecture series.

Please register here: https://fu-berlin.webex.com/webappng/sites/fu-berlin/webinar/webinarSeries/register/8df470e12e264f959533abfdd58bd646



Authoritarian governments are increasingly promoting political control enabled by digital technologies in the name of protecting public security and strengthening social order. The repressive nature of the extensive, oftentimes unchecked digital control has been deliberately hidden away from public discourse and expands in the absence of substantive political accountability. How do ordinary citizens under autocracy react emotionally when facing digital control such as surveillance and censorship implemented by its government? To which extent do triggered emotions relate to changes in citizens’ political attitude? To answer these questions, we employed a survey experiment (N=4507) in China and conducted 50 in-depth interviews from our fieldwork in the country. Our study sheds light on the nuanced political-psychological consequences of digital control under authoritarian rule. It highlights when confronting digital control, negative feelings such as anger, disgust, and helplessness increase, but rather moderately; one’s positive sentiment, however, decreases to a much stronger and greater extent. A worsening of political attitudes, especially asked in hypothetical term, is another significant consequence of knowing about digital control. In general, these effects are stronger in the aspect of digital surveillance, as compared to digital censorship; and also greater when digital control measures are perceived in personalized term rather than in public terms. Overall, our study enriches current understandings of the formation and alteration of political attitudes toward digital control and unveils specific emotional mechanisms that are at play.



Danqi Guo is a PhD student in political science at Freie Universität Berlin. She obtained her BA in political science from the same university and MA in public administration and policy from University of Potsdam. Her research interests lie in the intersection of authoritarianism, digital politics, and political psychology. Her dissertation employs mixed-methods to examine political-psychological motivations and consequences of digital authoritarianism, using China as a key empirical case.

Genia Kostka is Professor of Chinese Politics at the Freie Universität Berlin. Her research focuses on digital transformation, environmental politics, and political economy with a regional focus on China. Her most recent research project explores how digital technologies are integrated into local decision-making and governance structures in China (ERC Starting Grant 2020-2026).