Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Never Trust the Internet (or Manga)

I just read a profile of Roland Soong, the man behind EastSouthWestNorth, and came across a nice illustration why I think it's wise to be cautious in drawing conclusions (especially about China) from things on the net:

17. Zhao Ziyang recently died. Non-Chinese seemed to have much greater interest in this story than Chinese. Is this observation correct? Whether true or false, why?

How many Americans or Europeans know who Zhao Ziyang is? You must be joking!!! Like 0.00001%! This question must refer not to general populations, but only to those who actually speak up. I once published an academic paper on the theory of the "Spiral of Silence" of Elizabeth Noelle-Neumann about the common fallacy to take the distribution of opinions of those who speak out as the same for the general population. This is a dangerous, because it was exactly how the Nazis created the impression that they represented the majority in Germany. On the matter of Zhao Ziyang, the distribution of opinions should not be based upon only those who are willing to speak out at this time.

Inside China, I would have liked to run an anonymous public opinion survey to ascertain how people feel, but that won't happen, of course. So all is left to speculation.
According to Wikipedia, the Spiral of Silence actually "asserts that a person is less likely to voice an opinion on a topic if one feels that one is in the minority for fear of reprisal or isolation from the majority." I find Soong's take more useful--maybe I can call it "Soong's Spiral of Silence (SSS)." It's the perfect way to reassure yourself when you read newspaper accounts of some fanatical Chinese nationalist's BBS postings. "That's horrible! Oh, SSS... it's OK!" Or when you hear about some crazy Japanese manga like "Hating the Korean Wave." Never mind... SSS!

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