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Blow the lid off: Public complaints, bargaining power, and government responsiveness on social media

EfD Discussion Paper
1 March 2023

Qi Wang, Mengdi Liu, Jintao Xu, Bing Zhang


Scholars have demonstrated that governments allow citizens to express their opinions and selectively respond to them, yet little is known about how local governments interact with netizens via social media. In this paper, we measure government responsiveness based on whether the government verbally responds to public environmental complaints on social media. Using crawled real-world interactions between citizens and governments on Weibo (a Twitter-like platform), we find that higher bargaining power is associated with a lower likelihood that the government will respond to an environmental complaint against a firm. Local governments in China are more likely to respond to appeals that are likely to attract the attention of the upper-level government. Moreover, involving upper-level government through social media can weaken the bargaining power of industrial giants. Finally, public complaints have a significant short-term impact on corporate environmental performance but have a limited effect on firms with high bargaining power. 

Keywords: government responsiveness; bargaining power; social media; environmental complaint 

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Publication reference
EfD Discussion Paper 23-05
Publication | 22 March 2023