Legitimacy challenges of intermediary gatekeeping in the Chinese internet regulatory system

Lulu Wei

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Legitimacy Challenges of Intermediary Gatekeeping in the Chinese Internet Regulatory System
In the Chinese legal and political framework, in order for the government to maintain control over information posted on social media platforms, commercial internet intermediaries are assigned the role of co-regulators to actively participate in content censorship and surveillance. In the literature concerning internet censorship and internet regulation in China, scholars dedicate a lot of their attention to analyzing the government’s policies and the general cooperation between the Chinese government and ICT companies, especially in regards to enforcing censorship. This research suggests that, once we zoom in on specific gatekeeping processes, there are more nuanced interrelationships between government policies and private gatekeeping practices, as well as between different types of gatekeepers and individuals. The output of such intermediary gatekeeping, as analyzed through two empirical case studies, does not fully align with the government standards, private gatekeeping creates a breach in the government’s censorship and surveillance policies. Both cooperation as well as tensions exist in this regard. Agreement, disagreement, mutual shaping, and even the disobedience of government rules and generation of alternative standards by private gatekeepers occur throughout intermediary gatekeeping processes.
As a result, the dilemma of the substantive legitimacy of intermediary gatekeeping is that private gatekeepers have to rewrite or negotiate the standards set by government for the online gatekeeping practices in order to gain legitimacy from the end user community. Significantly, private actors on the Chinese internet, from commercial gatekeepers to grassroots end-users, manage to find a reasonable modus vivendi, to preserve a certain scope of internet freedom. Moreover, the traditional Chinese values, which may suggest a typically Chinese understanding of power and authority, as well as of rights and freedoms, mitigate some of the challenges to legitimacy of the Chinese internet regulations.
Considering both the formal and substantive legitimacy deficit of the government rules and regulations, a relative “hands-off” approach towards internet governance is better than direct legal and administrative interventions. Social media platforms provide a new online public space for the deliberation of public issues and to formulate participatory self-regulation in interest groups, and for sub-cultural communities to exercise regulatory participation and deliberation. In this sense, traditional Chinese values can be a local cultural soil for cultivating the public culture of participation and deliberation on the Chinese internet.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Laws
Awarding Institution
  • Tilburg University
  • Koops, Bert-Jaap, Promotor
  • Goodwin, Morag, Promotor
Award date27 Feb 2018
Publication statusPublished - 2018


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