This article examines the image rumors in emergent situation on Weibo in China. Both two emergent cases selected are related to government departments, in such special relationship, and under the environment of strict media censorship in China, those related reports would be blocked by the authorities, furthermore, information get more ambiguously without specific report of emergencies. Hence, netizens tend to believe rumors than usual especially when it comes to image rumor.
Since the nature of emergency and rumors, the image rumors spreading can be faster and stronger than usual during an emergent situation.
Keywords: Rumor, Social media, Emergencies, Weibo, China, Photos. Rumor spreading on social media Rumours are an important form of social communications, and their spreading play a significant role in a variety of human affairs. The spread of rumours can shape the public opinion in a country (Galam, 2002). Rumors have both becomes inevitable parts of our social life, which have enormous effects on our daily activities.
Rumor can have both positive and negative effects.
Although it can help to create social bounds and public relations among people, yet they can destroy the true image of others or mislead people ( Nejati, Asadian and Zehtabi,2010). In the ancient times, without cutting edge technologies, the spreading of rumor almost rely on communication within people or mass media. The influence and speed of rumors can be limited. However, in the new media era, social media like Facebook or Twitter can facilitate rumor spreading faster and lead to unimaginable consequences.
According to Wikipedia, “Weibo is a Chinese Microblogging website which is similar to a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook, it is one of the most popular sites in China, in use by well over 30% of Internet users, with a similar market penetration that Twitter has established in the U. S. ”. As we know that both Facebook and Twitter has been blocked by Chinese authority for a few years, weibo, to a certain extent, has become an irreplaceable alternative in china’s social media for wide ranged netizens to exchange their ideas and be better informed actively.
Sina’s microblog business was modeled after Twitter, the American social networking and microblog site which was founded in San Francisco in 2006. Its popularity even rise the attention of Chinese government. According to DCCI (Data Center of China Internet), by 2012, there are almost 327 million netizens are using Weibo. As can conclude that based on such huge population, the impact of Weibo is enormous, besides, it offers a great platform for rumor spreading. since the popularity of weibo, there are internet rumors spread on it every day.
And a certain number of people are vulnerable by such fake information on the internet especially on social media. On social media like weibo, netizens are so easy to be act as a rumor spreader. Interesting is the fact that when those false information is shared by the users, people don’t think they did something wrong . So it is easy for us to become the spreaders of rumors unconsciously. If the information turns out to be fictitious, most of the rumor spreaders thought that only the original rumormonger should be responsible for it.
The rumormongers consider the prosperous social media as a good platform to spread rumor which means such means of spreading is more speedy, extensive and profound. According to the Jiefang Daily (2011, December), the amount of rumor on Weibo in 2011 is more than 8 times than the amount in 2010. The top three kinds of rumor are disasters, public celebrities and social issues, which account for 13. 1%, 13. 1% and 12. 5% respectively. Since in contemporary China, there are increasing people in China pay more attention to the issues of China, more and more people get the information from the internet.
Weibo is a great platform for people interact to each other and exchange their idea actively unprecedentedly. The kind of rumors became diverse on social media comparing to traditional way. In an old way, rumors always transmitted through mouth to mouth or text, however, nowadays, rumors on social media not only in the form of words, but also in the form of images and videos. From the perspective of image and videos in rumors on social media, people would get more confused about the rumors of images and videos, most of netizens would believe it and repost it to others which can result in the mass transmission of rumors.
In this article, two case studies are conducted to identify image rumors in an emergent situation on Weibo. By doing this, we can have a better understanding of rumors spreading on Sina Weibo. Literature Review Definitions of Key words Rumor: An unverified account or explanation of events circulating from person to person and pertaining to an object, event, or issue in public concern(“Rumor”, 2012). Social media: Interactive web platforms via which individuals and communities share, co-create, discuss, and modify user-generated content(“Social Meida”, 2012) .
Emergencies: An emergency is a situation that poses an immediate risk to health, life, property or environment. Most emergencies require urgent intervention to prevent a worsening of the situation, although in some situations, mitigation may not be possible and agencies may only be able to offer palliative care for the aftermath (“Emergencies”, 2012). Weibo: Sina Weibo is a Chinese microblogging (weibo) website. Akin to a hybrid of Twitter and Facebook, it is one of the most popular sites in China, in use by well over 30% of Internet users, with a similar market penetration that Twitter has established in the USA(“Weibo”, 2012).
Thomas (2011) noted that “ Sina Weibo as the most popular social media which similar to Twitter, it allows users to post 140-character messages, and users can follow friends and find interesting comments posted by others”. Small but main differences in the platform have made some say it is a Twitter clone, but better. For example, unlike Twitter, Sina Weibo allows users to post videos and photos, comment on other people’s updates, and easily add comments when re-posting a friend’s message (Thomas, 2011). However, this kind of advantage, to some extent, offers the rumors spreading as a new form.
For example, the rumormonger may upload a rumor message combined with a photo or video to ensure the credibility of the false information. Furthermore, the report also pointed out though mobile phones are used to send less than 20 percent of Twitter updates in the United States, nearly half of Sina Weibo’s updates are sent via mobile phone. This phenomenon points to the growth of China’s mobile Internet, one of the biggest trends in China and Asia (Thomas, 2011). By the huge amount of mobile users of Sina Weibo, rumor spreading has been speeded up never before.
According to DiFonzo and Bordia’s (2007) research, they found that in an organization, there are on three motives that have been popular in social psychological literature: fact finding, relationship enhancement, and self-enhancement (McMinn, 2007). And for the reason why people believe the rumors, the researchers added that people tend to believe and transmit rumors that match their beliefs and attitudes. Those who have a strong need for cognition or who are highly suggestible, for example, may have different ways of evaluating and accepting rumors.
The authors also point to source credibility as an important factor in how fully people believe in rumor. It should be noted, though, that noncredible sources can be influential once we forget who told us a particular rumor. Thus, even rumors spread by noncredible sources may be embraced over time (DiFonzo and Bordia,2007; McMinn,2007). Individuals participating in a rumor interaction are not an undifferentiated chain. Rather, they adopt different communicative postures based on certain contextual and personal variables.
Further, the presence or absence of a role may determine the pattern that a rumor will adopt. Thus, for example, the presence of an explanation-falsifying posture in a group of believers may lead the group to evaluate rumor’s veracity. (Bordia and Difonzo, 2004) Moreover, once those gossips are forwarded by the celebrities, for example, the results maybe more severe than expected, especially the users who followed the celebrity, would be informed by such rumors can quickly convey the content to others.
A paper named “Why Rumors Spread So Quickly in Social Networks” (2012) gave a key observation in the mathematical proof, as well as being a good explanation for this phenomenon, is that small-degree nodes learn a rumor once one of their neighbors knows it, quickly forward it to their neighbors. This propagation scheme facilitates sending rumors from one large degree node to another. On social media, hubs make the news available to a big audience, whereas average users quickly convey the information from one neighbor to the next. Comparing to traditional communication, Weibo has its unique transitive mode.
Guoming (2010) found that Weibo offers communication between users by its explosive energy. To elaborate, in a traditional mode,there is communicator and receiver, however , the identity of communicator and receiver has been transmitted to each other constantly on Weibo. Moreover, the content on Weibo spread to differ target users, netizens “follow” others according to different preferences, and are followed by others freely. As one can conclude that the information they received is personalized. Due to different interests, users participate in different social circles which formed a complex and mixed relationship.
Through comments and repost, messages are transited from one social circle to another which contributed to fast diffusion of information. In the meantime, the fission can be happened in any link of information transmission, so the mode of information transmission on Weibo is netted mode instead of linear mode. As Haiman (2001) noted in his book “the movement of information does not like meteor flashed, but the same as the nuclear fission. Lots of connections generated from one single information, and these connections reflect various structures.
During the transmission of rumors, Bordia and Difonzo (2004) found that rumor transmission is not a passive retelling of a narrative. Instead it is a rich conversation, involving an exchange of ideas, opinions, and viewpoints. The natural (and somewhat standard) model for viral epidemics is known as the susceptible-infected-recovered or SIR model (Radcliffe,1977). In this model, there are three types of nodes: A, susceptible nodes, capable of being infected; B, infected nodes that can spread the virus further; and C, recovered nodes that are cured and can no longer become infected (Shah and Zaman, 2009).
Research in the SIR model has focused on understanding how the structure of the network and rates of infection/cure lead to large epidemics (Moore, Newman,1999; Pastor-Satorras, Vespignani,2000; Newman, 2002; Ganesh, Massoulié, and Towsley, 2005). A new rumor spreading model, Susceptible- Infected-Hibernator-Removed (SIHR) model, is developed. The model extends the classical Susceptible-Infected-Removed (SIR) rumor spreading model by adding a direct link from ignorants to stiflers and a new kind of people-Hibernators. Wederive mean-field equations that describe the dynamics of the SIHR model in social networks. (Laijun, Z. t al. , 2011) Malicious rumors or misinformation can rapidly spread through existing social networks and lead to pernicious effects on individuals or society.
In all of these situations, a policy maker, power network operator, Internet service provider or victim of a malicious rumor, would like to identify the source of the risk as quickly as possible and subsequently quarantine its effect. (Shah and Zaman, 2009) For emergencies, it is common that rumors are normal in an emergency, which is marked by periods of uncertainty and anxiety about the possible damage to individuals and yield negative social utility (Laijun, Z. t al. , 2011). Besides, their study indicates that the spread of rumors goes against the stability of the emergent situation, as it could cause the public to move away from appropriate self-protection and join the panic crowd, or even adopt some irrational measures which could result in unnecessary social loss. During an emergent situation, Hao(2011) found that while satisfying the needs for information on public emergencies, netizens have no way of knowing that the Internet rumors have been deliberately edited and reprocessed during transmission.
Increases in the diversity, camouflage, and deceptiveness of the sources of information, netizens’ lack of ability to discern rumors from the truth, and imperfections in monitoring and control systems—all these enable Internet rumors to run rife in the Internet society. (Hao, 2011) For how the authorities could do to deal with rumors in an emergent situation, Ziji and Ziqiong (2009) pointed out that “when the emergency event develop rapidly in incipient stage or the truth is not clear, the authorities may allow rumor spreading to evoke the public’s reaction to latent dangers and take some appropriate emergency measures.
When the rate of rumor spreading is too fast or the obviously false rumors emerge in large amounts, the authorities should take steps to reduce rumor spreading on behalf of situation control. ” Because of the possible positive or potentially threatening effects of rumors, they also suggested that “It is essential for the authorities to understand the current situation and duly take measures to manage rumors. Authorities with this knowledge will be better able to deal with emergencies, reduce social loss and avoid a public panic. ”(Zili and Ziqiong, 2009). However, to refute rumors effectively also requires the help of Weibo.
As the author mentioned before, there are 327 million users on Weibo, which covers variety kinds of people ranging from grassroots to elites. As soon as the refuting rumors message by authorities released, it will effect society profoundly and extensively. For example, some official weibo of Corporations or the governmental departments can post the rumor-refuting messages on Weibo immediately. Jian (2010) noted that refuting rumors would be more difficult once rumors has had an negative effect on society. Sometimes rumor refuting would call back people’s memories towards it that may boost the effect of rumor spreading(Jian.
L, 2010), so it is vital to refute rumors timely ( Tao. L, 2011). Besides, based on the impact of new media, public opinion monitoring room in People’s Daily presented a principle called “Gold Four Hours” to solve some false information on social media towards emergencies, which compressed the coverage of “Gold 24 Hours” principle in traditional media to “Gold 4 Hours” in new media. Furthermore, Sina Weibo also opened a column named false information exposure for netizens to report untrue news and post news on their own official Weibo called rumor refuter(Wei. L and Xuemei. Z , 2012).
When an emergency occurs which caused by government departments’ carelessness directly or indirectly, for the relationship between media and government ,the related coverage would be censored by the authorities, media cannot cover the news they want. As Bandurski (2006) noted in his paper: The elite team of censor commissars, composed of Communist Party officials, is known as the News Commentary Group. The group represents a new vision for Chinese propaganda by adding an unofficial layer of after-the-fact policing seen by some officials as critical during this time of media diversification.
It is considered a reinvention of censorship for allowing the Party to ensure guidance of public opinion. Since there is seldom research related to image rumors and emergencies, furthermore, the relationship between Chinese governments and some emergencies, Chinese governments and citizens, all these factors can make a contribution to rumor spreading in China. Rumor spreading in China Two case studies are analysed in this article. The cases are both selected from the emergencies in China which rose high attention by users on Weibo in China.
To better elaborate the relationship between image and rumors in emergencies, the first case is about manipulated content posted on Weibo with irrelevant photos. The other one is about the content itself was manipulated in the photo. Manipulated content posted with irrelevant photos: a case of anti-PX protest in Ningbo From 23 October 2012, a week-long protest happened in a coastal city in Zhejiang province China. The reason was that there is a controversial petrochemical project was going to conduct in the early days. Residents believed that this project would produce mass PX which poses a threat to the local residents.
PX, according to Wikipedia, “is harmful to people’s health. It can be breathed in, ingested and absorbed through skin. It has a stimulating effect on the respiratory tract and eyes, while high concentrations have a narcotic effect on the central nervous system. ”(“P-Xylene”, 2012). A week later, the government of Ningbo city suspended the plan for this multibillion Yuan expansion of an oil refinery and chemical plant due to the pressure from residents. Furthermore, the officials said any p-xylene project would not be allowed in the city after the anti-PX protest against the government.
During the protest, the Weibo users paid high attention toward this public emergency, since the authority blocked some information of this issue, which did not covered by the local newspaper. a lot of messages was released on the Weibo, people supported the protest in Ningbo and a number of residents in Ningbo posted the latest news on Weibo. In the same time , a posted message with a photo rose lots of attentions by users, the message (see photo 3) said “It is self-deceiving to stop the coming of foreign journalists and people supported the protest, the local government covered the guideboard of Ningbo on the express way.
They might thought that by doing this, without the guideboard, people who wanted to go to Ningbo would drive into the sea”. The user named “Tian Jingbo” reposted the information from other sources on 28 October 2012, afterwards, the messages was reposted by many people from Weibo. Till 18:00, 29 October 2012, just one day long, the message has been reposted for 5479 times. Lots of user commented that they felt angry and disappointed to the government. Photo 3 [pic] However, this message turned out to be fake at last. Some people posted that the information proved wrong.
And an official account named “Nandu in-depth” said(see photo 4) that “It is totally an misunderstanding about the covered guideboard. The high way police station noted that the all 6 guideboards are new one, which built recently, ready used for a new high way in the future. Moreover, the guidepost was also not directed to Ningbo which is irrelevant to the Ningbo issue totally”. However, the rumor refuting message was reposted only by 726 times. Photo 4 [pic] This case noted that even a totally irrelevant photo, with planned introduction of the photos, can be processed to the needed one on Weibo.
With any text information added with the photo, can be a fresh piece of so-called news. Content was manipulated on photos: a case of China bullet train crash On 23 July 2011, two high-speed trains traveling on the Yongtaiwen railway line collided on a viaduct in the suburbs of Wenzhou, Zhejiang province, China. The two trains derailed each other, and four cars fell off the viaduct. 40 people were killed, at least 192 were injured, 12 of which were severe injuries (Wikipedia). Officials responded to the accident by hastily concluding rescue operations and ordering the burial of the derailed cars.
These actions elicited strong criticism from Chinese media and online communities. In response, the government issued directives to restrict media coverage, which was met with limited compliance, even on state-owned networks (“Wenzhou train collision”, 2012). This news exploded in China, besides, the negative actions government conducted was outraged by citizens. People shared their views online especially on Weibo, they also followed the latest information about high speed train crush. People were eager to know the reason why such tragic happened.
Afterwards, there was a news released on Weibo attached a photo (photo 1), “the bug that railway programmers made was the root cause of this Wenzhou high-speed train crash , at the same time, police has arrested two programmer without license. ”(Wenzhou train collision, 2011). The photo was a screenshot of TV news. After that, lots of comments of this news posted and reposted on Weibo, users felt indignation about this news. They wonder why ministry of railways hired programmers without license, furthermore, the indignation aggravated Wenzhou train collision to a certain extent.
However, in terms of government, it declared that there was not any report about “programmers arrested without license”, it was never exist. Shortly after, this screenshot photos turned out to proven false. The origin content was “ministry of railway apologized for the crash” which was manipulated to “bugs on railway system, two programmers without license was arrested” (photo 2). Besides, the TV news programme called “New view in the morning” clarified that the former screenshot was false one. Meanwhile, the official Weibo of this star-TV said that it is rude to make such hoax.
This case suggested that with the emergent of related software, any photos and videos can be manipulated to the needed one. It also noted that during the transmission of information on Weibo, seeing is not always believing. Nowadays, digital manipulation is not the specialty of professionals, more and more people get to know how to use it. On one hand, netizens themselves should be critical when facing news during an emergency, besides, authorities also refute rumors effectively. Photo 1 [pic] Photo 2 [pic] Conclusion
Posting on Weibo without content verification by traditional so-called “gatekeepers”, the communication on Weibo is “live” every day ( Tao. L, 2011). Once posting new message on it, just a click away, your message would be seen by any others. Although the staff of Weibo may delete the false information several hours later, the impact of this false information still cannot be ignored. Moreover, since the mass users of Weibo, the number of posted messages in one second is countless, it is impossible for staff to verify such large quantity of messages.
Weibo is more easier become the source of rumors , lacking of gatekeepers during the communication on Weibo facilitate the breed of false information and rumors on it as well. Besides, people tend to believe in news from Weibo which still has not proved to be true or false rather than ignoring it (Wei. L and Xuemei. Z, 2012). As a communication platform, every netizen can be the spreader and checker of rumors themselves, they can either repost the false information to others without verifying its authenticity or stop the diffusion of rumors themselves.
Comparing to text messages, people tend to believe image (photo) more because seeing is believing. However, nowadays, seeing is not always believing. With the digital method, the content of photos can be replaced by the required one, as case 2 showed. Moreover, a photo which is not relevant to the emergency, combined the manipulated text with the irrelevant photos, can be processed to a “worthy” news. There is a classical formula developed by Allport and Postman (1947) that “R(Rumor)=I(Importance)*A(ambiguity)”, indicating that (r) rumor activity is determined by two independent variables: (i) importance (i. . to an individual) and (a) ambiguity. Since emergency is vital to everyone, and blurred information has a larger space of imagination and explanation for people. In contemporary China, there is an irreconcilable conflict between citizens and government as a result of China’s actual conditions. When an emergency occurs, especially the emergency caused by authorities directly or indirectly, the rumormongers would like to make a false information with photos posted on Weibo in such kind of emergency, like the two cases in this article. At that moment , citizens are in angry already.
With the help of the photos, people are prone to believe it is true, such kind of rumors are more about government’s inappropriate actions towards emergent situation, which would make citizens more indignant to authorities and intensify the contradiction between them. In addition, due to the strict media censorship in China, the related coverage would be blocked by authorities, people are more eager to know what happened exactly. In situations like this, the news or news pictures posted on Weibo by users would be the focus of attention people chase.
Both these points of photo rumors can be a contributing factors to rumor spreading on Weibo in an emergency. Meanwhile, with the development of technology, a growing number of netizens get used to surfing on internet by smart phone. There is no limitation for netizens browse image or video online by smart phone. Moreover, a plenty of social media like Facebook and Twitter have applications for people to log in directly through phones, so does Weibo. People enjoy the convenience that Weibo applications brought.
They can make interaction everywhere by smartphone, post or repost, from online to offline, from network to interpersonal communication. Nevertheless, it leads to the stronger and faster of rumors spreading on Weibo, and facilitate the transmission of photos of rumors. Limitations The limitation of this article would be there might be not enough case to support the conclusion, moreover, further methods can be done to have a profoundly understanding towards this issue, such as in-depth interview or online survey, to find the netizens’ perception of image rumors in an emergent situation on Weibo.
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