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Supporting data for “Extra Legal Governance in Cyberspace: The Case of Illegal Online Sexual Fiction Market in China”

posted on 2023-08-17, 02:38 authored by Natalie Mae Evelyn

Theoretical framework of the thesis. It includes the criminal network framework and extralegal governance.

This thesis is an empirical study on the illegal online sexual fiction market in China, which majorly consists of underage female participants. Drawing on empirical data from 29 in-depth interviews with adult participants, including females and other genders, informal interactions, and online observations, it provides rich insider data that contributes to the study of illegal online markets and extra-legal governance. It reveals respondents’ lived experiences and interactions in the illegal market and their perspectives on sexual fictions. Respondents’ distinctive understanding of sex, sexual desires, and sexual fictions results in moral conflicts against the mainstream gendered norms in China, provoking moral scruples. Due to the anonymous milieu of the illegal online market, participants can conceal their true identities and satisfy their sexual desires with sexual fiction without concerns of moral scruples. By mitigating the moral scruples, the illegal online market provides a safe house for them to exercise their ‘perceived freedom and rights’ in trading the sexual fictions.

Apart from moral scruples, the thesis argues that market participants need to handle exchange risks and intellectual property right infringement provoked by legal risk as well. The absence of legal protection on informal intellectual property rights and legal support in contract enforcement makes the illegal market an optimistic environment for opportunistic behaviours, such as intellectual property right infringement, deterring the motivation for sellers to produce and trade the original sexual fictions. Buyers fall prey to dishonest sellers as well. For instance, sellers disappear after receiving the payment or deliver poor quality fictions. Anonymity intensifies these risks by reducing participants’ ability to force payment and govern over the illegal market. Furthermore, they need to remain low-profile to avoid police attention. These risks hinder cooperation.

To foster cooperation, scholars argue that trust is the ‘cure-all remedy.’ However, this thesis disagrees and further argues that participants cooperate by signals of trustworthiness by providing empirical data. Signals are publicly observable features that help determine one’s trustworthiness. The thesis constructs the framework of cyber-extralegal governance to understand the institutions deployed by participants to signal trustworthiness to cooperate. It understands the illegal online market as layers of networks constituted by different actors – sellers, buyers, and online platforms. This framework pertains to system-based institutions and individual-based institutions. Online platforms need to compete with others and attract users by signaling trustworthiness to the users. System-based institutions facilitate the cooperation between online platforms and users. In contrast, individual-based institutions are developed for the cooperation between human users, which are intertwined with and affected by system-based institutions. This thesis illustrates these institutions by deriving empirical data from the illegal online sexual fiction market in China.


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