Appeals to Chinese regulators via social media can reduce emissions violations by companies and bring down levels of air and water pollution, researchers from the University of Chicago have found.

The team used open data to identify violations and recruited volunteers to file public appeals for action to local regulators, via social media platform Weibo, and private appeals, via a government hotline or messages to government officials or firms.

The researchers received 1,161 official responses from nearly 3,000 appeals. Weibo appeals resulted in improved environmental performance by companies, as did the private ones, albeit to a lesser degree.

Shaoda Wang, assistant professor at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy, tells China Dialogue: “Like other countries, China has set up various channels for citizens to report environmental violations, forcing local regulators to step up enforcement. Our study offers experimental evidence in relation to bottom-up participation in environmental governance by Chinese citizens.”

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