Flagging Controversies: The effect of flagging mechanisms on Zhihu platform


  • Chen Li Tilburg University




Chinese platforms, Zhihu, flagging, knowledge, ad hoc public, content moderation


This empirical study explores the formation and configuration of public opinions on Zhihu, a major knowledge-sharing social media platform in contemporary China. Though recent studies examined the impact of flags on citizen journalism, how users make meaning of flagged content and how flags affect public opinions largely lack contextualized explanation and investigation. Thus, this research takes the flagging mechanisms of Zhihu as a vantage point to analyze how public opinions are configurated in a flagged controversy. This study focuses on a posted question on Zhihu: “How to understand Greta Thunberg’s advice for Chinese to stop using chopsticks for the environment’s sake?” This study probes the interplay between users, platforms, and public discourses in the ad hoc controversy. The finding suggested the frontpage and backstage of the flagging activity structure an unequal relationship among Zhihu users. Significantly, the flagging mechanisms broaden the circulation of controversy rather than intervening in spreading rumors. Besides, this study found a frame of newsworthiness employed by Zhihu users. In addition to the framing, there is a pattern of prioritizing information sources in public discussions.