The Effects of Weibo Use on Political Trust and Social Trust among College Students in Mainland China

TitleThe Effects of Weibo Use on Political Trust and Social Trust among College Students in Mainland China
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Zhao, M., J. Lin, L. Yang, and Y. Y. Liu
Affiliation (1st Author)The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Section or WGMediated Communication, Public Opinion and Society Section
DateWed 26 June
Slot CodeMCPW4a
Slot Code (Keyword)MCPW4a
Time of Session16:00-17:30
Session TitleTrust and miss-trust in the media from various aspects
Submission ID5010

China’s Twitter-like platform, Sina Weibo, has experienced explosive growth since its official launch in 2009, offering a new public sphere for social interaction and political engagement never seen in the history of the authoritarian state. Yet, few studies have explored the political implications of Weibo use and its potential to affect political change in China. To fill this void, this study examines the relationship between mainland college students’ Weibo use and their political and social trust. Since most college students are around 20 years old, their political attitudes and values are more likely to be affected by information on social media channels.Because of China’s unique socio-political environment, political trust was divided into three aspects: (1) trust in political system, (2) trust in government, and (3) trust in state media. Social trust’s trust was divided into three dimensions: (1) trust in acquaintances, (2) trust in strangers, and (3) trust in experts. An online survey of 385 respondents on from November 10th to 30th in 2012 showed that the intensity of Weibo use is negatively related with students’ political trust, such that increased use lead to less trust in the political system, Chinese government and state media. On the other hand, users’ sense of belonging to Weibo has a positive relationship with social trust. One unanticipated finding is that Weibo political participation is positively related to trust in strangers, implying that activists may be more willing to express their political opinions to strangers given the relative anonymity provided by Weibo. A positive relationship between political and social trust can also be found, which suggests that people in possession of higher trust in their political system and government may have a stronger sense of security about the social environment they live. Some scholars contend that the proliferation of the ICT and new media in China can lead to decreased political trust in the authoritarian regime. Results from this study only support the idea that certain kinds of political participation on Weibo can have this effect. A possible explanation may be the constraints of social networks and information overflow. Users are constantly bombarded with a flood of information on Weibo so that general online participation is not enough to engender doubts on the political system, government and state media. In conclusion, the relationship between Weibo use and political trust as well as social trust cannot be confined to a dichotomous perspective, but a highly complicated pattern embedded in various internal and external social forces.

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