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Responding To: 社交媒体时代的中美关系

A Blessing in Disguise

Cindy Wang


In December 2019, Li Ziqi, a Chinese vlogger who showcases rural Chinese life and traditional Chinese cultural, went viral on social media. Tens of thousands of people around the world commented on her YouTube channel, which now has more than 8 million followers. Through the power of internet and social media, millions were introduced to a completely different image of China: the smoggy industrial cities and labor-intensive manufacturing lines are replaced by an exotic landscape and fascinating nature. The age of social media offers a different option for connecting different cultures: within a few clicks, one would be able to see the streets of a completely different country and the lives of those one would’ve never interacted with otherwise. On an individual level, social media has never brought people closer across borders. However, such a prosperous scene could not disguise the potential danger of the age of social media.

Currently, social media is fundamentally changing how political campaigns impact people’s views on political issues and international affairs. Platforms such as Facebook have, arguably, been slowly replacing traditional news media. According to Pew Research Center, about 6-in-10 Americans get their news from social media. Two-thirds of Facebook users get news on the site, and 59% of Twitter users do the same. Two concerns naturally arise. First, social media websites are often criticized for their algorithm, which automatically selects content that is closer to a users’ preferences on their feed. This reinforces the preconceived beliefs individuals hold, and makes them less likely to be exposed to different opinions. In the context of U.S.-China relations, social media often facilitates misunderstandings. For example, one is less likely to see arguments supporting free trade when they personally prefer more protectionist content. On the macro level, such reinforced opinions would aggregate into voting power that influences the attitude of the administrative and thus, the direction of China related policies. Such confirmation biases only undermine the continence social media can bring in terms of cultural communication. Second, credibility has become a core of the social media debate, especially in recent years. The general lack of verification of various sources of information on social media could be misleading, yet the confusion is only compounded by the new doubt of the credibility of traditional media. In a way, keeping cautious eyes over the vast amount of information could be a good thing for individuals to remain objective and critical. However, such doubts under the context of already existing confirmation bias would only lead to less desirable outcomes. Instead of remaining critical over all information, one is more likely to believe in the information that already confirms their existing knowledge, and less likely to be convinced by new information that doesn’t quite speak what is desired. The implication of the credibility problem on U.S – China relations could be severe. For an average individual in America, China is not a concept that often appears in their daily lives, and they are thus more likely to be exposed to information about China that is not so comprehensive. The credibility problem would lead to individuals doubting new information that they were not previously familiar with, and in the case of a foreign country, this translates into a decreased possibility of objectively understanding the bilateral relations between the United States and other countries.

On the Chinese side, the social media scene is telling a completely different story. The algorithm or “fake news” discussion is less relevant for Chinese social media platforms, as individuals are more exposed to a set of domestic products such as Weibo, WeChat, and the rising star Douyin (Tik Tok). Instead of the trend of replacing traditional news media, Chinese social media seems to have taken a completely different direction, and entered a stage often referred to as “the age of national entertainment.” People now spend a significant amount of time in their lives browsing short videos on apps like Douyin, and young people post and retweet posts about TV shows and celebrities on social media platforms. On one hand, such easy access to pop culture can play an important role in facilitating cultural exchange. Many Americans living in China are sharing their perspectives on their daily lives in China, and Chinese nationals abroad are able to introduce a different lifestyle through their Chinese lens. However, on the other hand, the overly entertainment-related nature of such content often makes people ignore the deeper level of issues. Such mutual understanding often stops at a surface level, like food, music, and makeup trends. The large volume of entertaining content often distracts people from deeper level discussions about the differences in cultures, beliefs, and values.

The age of social media has been connecting the world at an unprecedented pace. In a way, the United States and China have never experienced such easy access to each other’s culture and society. Nevertheless, it is still too early to celebrate the blessing, and overlook what may be in disguise.

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