In spite of China’s intensifying crackdown on political dissent, residents still have plenty of leeway to air their environmental concerns and criticize polluters on social media, a new study shows.

Public appeals for action made on the social network Weibo reduced pollution violations at industrial plants by more than 60%, according to the study released this month by researchers from the University of Chicago and several other institutions.

Social media can still be an effective tool for some kinds of civic action in China, said Michael Greenstone, the study’s co-author and professor at the University of Chicago, in a press release. “The more popular the social posts are, the more effective they are in generating action from the government.”

The research was co-funded by the National Science Foundation of China and the Energy Policy Institute at the University of Chicago and has yet to be peer reviewed. The findings suggest that President Xi Jinping’s government allows for greater civic debate on certain issues, and point to a way forward for activists in China seeking to promote their goals effectively and without running afoul of the authorities.

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Areas of Focus: Environment
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Environment
Producing and using energy damages people’s health and the environment. EPIC research is quantifying the social costs of energy choices and uncovering policies that help protect health while facilitating growth.
Air Pollution
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Air Pollution
Air pollution from fossil fuel combustion poses a grave threat to human health worldwide. EPIC research is using real-world data to calculate the effects of air pollution on human health...
EPIC-China
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EPIC-China
China is indisputably critical to addressing the global energy challenge. China is one of the world’s biggest economies, its top carbon emitter, and among its most polluted countries. Yet, China...