Student-run page that vets protest rumours swamped with ‘likes’
1 October 2014
Building Businesses on Free Government Data
27 October 2014

New grants fund JMSC social media and censorship research

JMSC Assistant Professor Fu King-Wa has been awarded two new grants to continue his work investigating the behaviour of social media users in China and Hong Kong and assessing the extent of Chinese government censorship.

One of the new grants has been awarded by the prestigious Hong Kong Research Grants Council, and the other by the Hong Kong Public Policy Research Fund. They will enable Fu and his team to build on the success of their Weiboscope media research programme, which investigates the way a person’s interactions on the Chinese social media  platform Weibo are connected to their future postings on social and political topics.  The programme also collects data on changes in Hong Kong social media users’ opinions about local policy issues.

“In China, not a lot of people like to mention social issues and politics, most just use Weibo for their leisure use,” Fu said when explaining his research. However, he continued, “If you are one of these people, and the friends and celebrities you follow start posting about social issues and politics, is this linked to your future interest in posting more about social society and politics?”

“Social media is just one small area that contributes to people’s opinions,” he said. “More mainland Chinese people are studying overseas, traveling, and the country has opened up in many ways, and my study will try to control for these other factors and isolate the influence of social media alone.”

The two-year grant from the Hong Kong Public Policy Research Fund will also enable Fu to collect data on Hong Kong social media users, and investigate the way their opinions are affected by stories on local housing, the environment, constitutional reform, and conflict with mainland China.

The new research will build upon the programmes and analysis techniques Fu and his team developed while investigating the behaviour of Weibo users.  This research resulted in the launch of Weiboscope, an online tool that publishes, in Chinese and English, Weibo posts that have been censored by the Chinese government.  Weiboscope also tracks the volume of Weibo posts censored by the Chinese government over time.

“Censorship is just one question of the whole Weiboscope programme,” Fu said. “In general I just want to know how people in China make use of social media, their online behaviour, what kind of public opinion they post.”

“Of course, as a journalist, I am curious to know about the censored posts. If everyone doesn’t want us to know, then we are more curious to know. I think curiosity is one of the defining characteristics of a media researcher.”

Fu’s team includes PhD student Chung-hong Chan, research assistant Kwun cheung Chan, masters student Xinle Jia and post-doctoral fellow, Dr Liang Hai.

Please click here to watch Dr Fu discuss the Weiboscope programme on Bloomberg TV, and learn more about how he and his team have been tracking Weibo posts censored by the Chinese government during the recent Hong Kong democracy protests.