Jingsi Christina Wu and Kara S. Alaimo
In August 2016, on the heels of the summer heat surrounding the Olympics, a major celebrity family scandal gripped mainland China. The nation watched closely as a well-known actor struggled through revelations about his wife’s scandalous infidelities, her disgraceful possession over their family properties, and most dramatically, her unilateral decision to flee to America with their two children—all while their divorce unfolded in front of the nation’s gaze. Not a political affair, this scandal was able to attract as much publicity as the Chinese people were thirsty for. Sina Weibo (Microblogging) became one of the biggest winners of this storm, as its NASDAQ stock price rose 7.05% the day after the actor made his announcement on Sina Weibo about his plan to divorce, and Sina Weibo’s market value broke through 10 billion U.S. dollars for the first time (according to Sohu Business in 2016). Within 14 hours of that announcement, the actor’s original Sina Weibo post had been forwarded 520,000 times and commented on 1,240,000 times (according to Sohu Business in 2016). Like all other major news events, many of which are often more politically sensitive and civically relevant, ordinary citizens in mainland China have grown used to looking to their social media sites for information and guidance. As of December 2015, mainland China’s social media population reached 530 million, amounting to 77% of its total Internet users (according to CINNIC in 2016). A Western media invention, social media platforms have largely permeated the lives of regular Chinese users, although not without “Chinese characteristics.” This article reviews an important body of literature that takes keen interest in the civic implications of mainland China’s social media sites, which render themselves more relevant than ever in everyday life as well as amid high-profile public events.
Following in the footsteps of many influential foreign Internet sites, including Google and the New York Times, such leading social media entities as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube have all been blocked by the Great Firewall of China, officially known as the Golden Shield Project. This exclusive characteristic, along with other unique Chinese phenomena, has given rise to a separate social media universe that China calls its own. This article draws connections among explorations about the civic significance of China’s social media landscape for the world’s largest Internet population (according to CNNIC in 2008). While unique Chinese conditions do not necessarily disconnect China’s users from universal features of social media use, this article focuses specifically on works that examine how local social media platforms have shaped civic engagement in mainland China’s restrictive political environment.
Like the spread of Internet technology to modern China, recent developments in social media have invited competing narratives about their democratic implications, which often echo Western academia’s evaluative position taking between utopian and pessimistic narratives of digital technology’s social impact. The former state that Chinese citizens have availed themselves of the unprecedented opportunities afforded by social media to keep governmental actions in check, whereas the latter voice the concern that social media simply provide new and more ready channels for governmental monitoring and manipulating of public opinion.
In 2010, Deng and Jing suggested that although the concept of civil society originated in the West, we need to understand it as historically, culturally, and socially specific. The Chinese civil society, according to the two scholars, is both separate from and interdependent with the state. Its origin stemmed from China’s state-guided transition from a planned economy to marketization, leading China’s civil society to be more dependent on state policies, while the Western civil society gains more independence from private capital. Deng and Jing note that theories of state-society relations have primarily positioned the two as confrontational entities and instead propose a “Positive Interaction Theory (BIT)” for the case of China. Under this notion, the state allows for the civil society’s independent operation and protects it with laws and abstract legislation. While there is great diversity within the civil society and often conflicts of interest, the state should interfere and mediate in legal and economic terms, when members of the civil society fail to reconcile on contractual grounds.
Under BIT as an ideal type, Deng and Jing asserted that the state should not intervene in the civil society’s political rights, and the latter should reserve the freedom to organize their political voices and push for democratization. The closer state-society relation can be to this ideal, the more robust a civil society will be. Once China’s civil society establishes its independence and autonomy, the scholars suggest, it will then participate in China’s politics and provide effective checks and balances on state decision making. However, these two stages are not neatly separate from each other. As can be seen in the cases reviewed in this article, the Chinese civil society in its current state is not a unitary and static entity. While limited in sensitive political and religious domains, it has achieved a strong voice in other social issues and positive interaction with the state at times.
This investigation into a burgeoning literature on social media in mainland China finds that although the Chinese people’s use of social media does not strike one as immediately liberating in terms of new political freedom, it bears the potential of creating a civil society that may be particularly meaningful for the idiosyncratic political environment of China. In other words, there may be a lot left to desire, but researchers can look more closely into the various ways in which users in China actively, and often creatively, organize their voices and actions via new social media outlets. In the absence of a democracy, a civil society continues to emerge.
John D. H. Downing
Social movements are the matrix of many forms and formats (technologies, genres) of media that contest dominant power. Such media are in many ways the lifeblood of such movements. Media activism denotes collective communication practices that challenge the status quo, including established media. Frequently, such media are underfunded or unfunded and have a much shorter life cycle than capitalist, state, or religiously funded media. They are a “tribe” within a much larger continent of nanomedia (also called alternative media and citizens’ media). Their functions may spill over at times within the operation of established media, especially in times of social turbulence and crisis.
The “dominant power” in question may be quite variously perceived. Extreme-right populist movements, as in several European countries, may define the political establishment as having betrayed the supposed racial purity of the nation, or in the case of India’s Islamophobic Hindutva movement, as having traduced the nation’s religious purity. Labor movements may attack capital, feminist movements, or patriarchal and sexist structures. Sometimes these movements may be local, or regional; other times, they are transnational.
The impact of these media is still a matter of considerable debate. Often, the debate begins from a false premise—namely, the frequently small size and/or duration of many social movement media projects. Yet women’s right to vote and the abolition of slavery in the Americas were not won overnight, and neither was the dismantling of South Africa’s racist apartheid system. The Hindutva movement goes back over a century. We should not hold social movement media to a higher standard of impact, any more than we should ascribe instantaneous power to established media.
Social movements wax and wane, and so do their media projects. But the persistence of some such media activism between the peaks of movement activism is generally essential to the regeneration of social movements.
Kristin Page Hocevar, Miriam Metzger, and Andrew J. Flanagin
Our understanding and perceptions of source credibility significantly drive how we process health and risk messages, and may also influence relevant behaviors. Source credibility is believed to be impacted by both perceptions of source trustworthiness and expertise, and the effect of credibility on changes in attitudes and behavior has been studied for decades in the persuasion literature. However, how we understand and define source credibility—particularly the dimension of expertise—has changed dramatically as social media and other online platforms are increasingly used to design and disseminate health messages. While earlier definitions of source credibility relied heavily on the source’s credentials as indicators of expertise on a given topic, more recent conceptualizations must also account for expertise held by laypeople who have experience with a health concern. This shifting conceptualization of source credibility may then impact both why and when people select, as well as how they perceive, process, and judge, health messaging across both novel and more traditional communication contexts.
As the use of online technologies has grown in recent years, so has the study of computer-mediated communication.
Online communication began in universities through the use of e-mail. Soon, spaces such as multi-user dungeons (MUDs), Listserv, and bulletin boards were developed, which not only allowed people who knew each other offline to interact but also enabled individuals who were not previously acquainted to communicate via the Internet. The development of Web 2.0, which allowed for more user-generated content, led to new and innovative ways of interacting online, most notably thorough social media sites. Social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, allow not only for text-based interaction to occur but also for image- and video-based interaction.
Through all these developments, interactional norms and practices have developed. A key factor in these norms is what the medium enables, or affords, participants to do. Features such as whether an interactional platform is synchronous or asynchronous can impact the nature of the interaction. Similarly, the lack of visual or verbal contact when interacting may impact upon the interaction, through the potential for misunderstandings. Participants do, though, develop practices to suit the medium. If we examine these practices in detail, it is possible to also analyze the role which technology plays in the interaction. One method that has been used to do this is conversation analysis, which was developed for and using spoken interaction. Conversation analysis examines conversation in forensic detail to illuminate the norms and practices through which we conduct our everyday lives. In using this method for analyzing online interaction, we can not only understand the practices but also examine the affordances of particular interactional platforms.
Various interactional features of computer-mediated communication (CMC) have been examined from a conversation analytic perspective, including sequential organization, openings, turn-taking, and repair. A common focus of these studies it to explore the interactional patterns but also to understand how these might be impacted by the technology itself. The development of norms for a variety of forms of technologized interaction demonstrates how individuals are capable of adapting their interactional practices for new contexts.
Susan J. Drucker and Gary Gumpert
Cities themselves function as media of communication. They are places where messages are created, carried, and exchanged by structures, infrastructures, and people. Urbanity is an age-old phenomenon undergoing radical transformation as developing means of communication redefine traditional notions of place and space. Urban communication meshes population density, technology and social interaction. Urban communication, like urban studies, is an interdisciplinary field that provides a fresh perspective from which to view the city and its transformation. The communication lens offers valuable perspectives and methodologies for the examination of urban and suburban life. It conceptualizes the city as a complex environment of interpersonal interaction, a landscape of spaces and places that shape human behavior, and an intricate technological environment.
The development of urban communication research and activities is traceable from the early works a diverse group of urbanists to more current research programs conducted by communication scholars. Urban communication foregrounds communication in the study of the urban landscape. The unique patterns and needs of urban dwellers and communities are examined in an age where cities are layered with media technologies. An increasing number of technologies enable information from the digital world to be layered onto the physical world through augmented realities, thereby altering the person–environment relationship by creating spaces in which users interact with their physical surroundings through digital media. The future of cities is increasingly influenced by media technology. Cities are global, connected, inclusive, livable, green, sustainable, mega, and smart. Cities have been identified as communicative cities. There are many ways of looking at communication and cities and the history and broad parameters of the growing area of urban communication.
Suellen Hopfer and Genesis Gutierrez
Fundamental structural features of risk maps influence how health risk and burden information is understood. The mapping of health data by medical geographers in the 1800s has evolved into the field of geovisualization and the use of online, geographic information system (GIS) interactive maps. Thematic (statistical) map types provide basic principles for mapping geographic health data. It is important to match the nature of statistical data with map type to minimize the potential for communicating misleading messages. Strategic use of structural map features can facilitate or hinder accurate comprehension of health risk messages in maps. A key challenge remains in designing maps to communicate a clear message given the complexity of modern health risk burdens. Various structural map features such as symbols, color, grouping of statistical data, scale, and legend must be considered for their impact on accurate comprehension and message clarity. Cognitive theory in relationship to map comprehension plays a role, as do insights from research on visualizing uncertainty, future trends in developing predictive mapping tools for public health planning, the use of geo-social and “big data,” as well as data ownership.
Anthony M. Limperos
Video games are a very popular form of entertainment media and have been the subject of much debate since their meteoric rise to popularity in the 1980s. Similar to the criticisms leveraged against other forms of media, video games have often been scrutinized for their potential to negatively influence those who play them. However, since the beginning of the 21st century, many new genres of video games have emerged and as a result, both public dialogue and research attention have shifted more toward understanding how certain games can be used for prosocial purposes. Exercise-based and active video games (AVGs) are a type of game which requires players to get up and move instead of simply sitting in front of the TV and pushing buttons. These types of games have received a lot of popular press and scholarly attention due to the fact that they encourage movement and may be used as a health intervention tool, especially to combat problems like obesity and overweight. Even though there has been significant research attention focused on the potential health benefits of playing these types of games, there is still much work to be done. While researchers have advanced a general understanding of why certain AVGs are effective or ineffective, there needs to be a greater emphasis on understanding the process by which these games can be motivating and influential. Shedding light on what makes AVGs potentially effective health management and intervention tools will not only be important for motivating people to become more active, but may also help inform research which focuses on how video games may be used in the health domain more generally.
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Communication. Please check back later for the full article.
Video-mediated communication (VMC) has a long history. Fictional depictions of variously named VMC systems began appearing in late 19th century illustrations and novels as plausible extensions of telegraphy, telephony, and filmic and televisual moving pictures. AT&T demonstrated experimental one-way combined telephone and television streams in 1927, and the German Post Office had a fully operative public videophone system as early as 1936. However, despite the apparent early progress, VMC has had a surprisingly rocky path to mainstream use—indeed, it might even be argued that VMC is still not the ubiquitous medium one would assume of “the next best thing to being there” (as Julius Molnar said of the AT&T Mod I in the 1960s). Commercial VMC and research have intertwined themes. Changing technologies and difficulties in institutional and domestic commercialization are set against research into the value, form-factors, and member methods for conveying social presence over distance. These issues are as relevant to current VMC as they have ever been, and augmented reality technologies will introduce yet more new opportunities and challenges.
Helena Sofia Rodrigues and Manuel José Fonseca
In the context of epidemiology, an epidemic is defined as the spread of an infectious disease to a large number of people, in a given population, within a short period of time. When we refer to the marketing field, a message is viral when it is broadly sent and received by the target market through person-to-person transmission. This marketing communication strategy is currently assumed to be an evolution by word of mouth, with the influence of information technologies, and called Viral Marketing. This stated similarity between an epidemic and the viral marketing process is notable yet the critical factors to this communication strategy’s effectiveness remain largely unknown. A literature review specifying some techniques and examples to optimize the use of viral marketing is therefore useful.
Advantages and disadvantages exist to using social networks for the reproduction of viral information. It is very hard to predict whether a campaign becomes viral. However, there are some techniques to improve advertising/marketing communication, which viral campaigns have in common and can be used for producing a better communication campaign overall. It is believed that the mathematical models used in epidemiology could be a good way to model a marketing communication in a specific field. Indeed, an epidemiological model SIR (Susceptible-Infected-Recovered) helps to reveal the effects of a viral marketing strategy. A comparison between the disease parameters and the marketing application, as well as simulations using Matlab software explores the parallelism between a virus and the viral marketing approach.
Marla L. Moon
A visual impairment can affect cognitive, emotional, neurological, and physical development. Visual impairment impairs reading speed and comprehension, and is often mistaken for a learning disability. Learning is accomplished through complex and interrelated processes, one of which is vision. As a result, visual impairments limit the range of experiences and kinds of information to which one is exposed. A reliance on visual cues in health and risk messages intensifies these effects with regard to health information. The millions of children and adults who are affected by visual impairments worldwide thus require specific consideration regarding how best to make health information accessible for them. The reliance on caretakers to address the health information needs of those living with visual impairments violates their privacy and threatens their emotional well-being. Technological and modality advances that rely on touchscreens that lack tactile or auditory cues marginalize a broad segment of society that is in need of gateways to overcome barriers to accommodating visual impairment. In designing strategic health and risk messages, consideration should be given to this scope of possible limitation and its implications for access to and processing of health and risk information. Health and risk message designers should understand both the realities of challenges to accessing information for the visually impaired and strategies for addressing these realities and the scope of the issue worldwide and across the lifespan.