Blow the Lid Off: Public Complaints, Bargaining Power and Government Responsiveness on Social Media

Research Brief
1 May 2023

Qi Wang, Mengdi Liu, Jintao Xu, Bing Zhang

Key Points

  • Local governments in China are increasingly responsive to citizen complaints concerning environmental issues via social media.
  • In less developed and manufacturing-dependent regions, local governments are less likely to respond to public complaints against local industrial giants.
  • As higher levels of government pay more attention to online complaints, the government's response rate increases.


The literature shows that governments encourage citizens to express their thoughts and reply to them in a selective manner, but little is known about how local governments engage with citizens via social media. In this study, we examine how local governments respond to public complaints on social media related to environmental issues. We use web-crawling software to collect real-world interactions between citizens and governments on Weibo, which is regarded as Chinese Twitter, and find that an environment-related complaint is less likely to get a response from the government if the enterprise targeted by the complainant has more bargaining power. In China, local governments are more likely to respond to complaints that are likely to garner the attention of the upper-level government. Involving upper-level government through social media can increase attention to complaints and reduce the bargaining power of industrial giants. Lastly, public complaints have a short-term impact on corporate environmental performance, but a limited impact on the environmental performance of enterprises with strong bargaining power.

Sustainable Development Goals
Publication reference
EfD Research Brief RB 23-05
Publication | 30 May 2023