Yichen Zhao | The influence of social media use on social trust in the context of public crises in China

Yichen Zhao | The influence of social media use on social trust in the context of public crises in China | University of Groningen, Media and Journalism Studies | Prof. Dr M.J. Broersma & Dr Q. Zhu | 1 January 2022- 1 January 2026 |  y.zhao[at]rug.nl

This project aims to explore how people’s social engagement with news on social media may influence social trust in the context of public crises in China. Social media has changed main features of news consumption and the way in which people engage with news. Previous audiences are enabled to produce, share and discuss news on social media. News engagement on social media even becomes a popular way for people to interact with each other and maintain social relationships. Social trust, defined as people’s trust in other citizens, is considered to be an essential aspect of social capital. Previous studies have addressed the impacts of social media use and online social interactions on social trust, though the results remain controversial due to different circumstances.

In times of a public crisis when the situation remains unclear, people will turn to social media not only for timely information but also for a sense of security. In this ambiguous and dangerous context, rumors are easily to be created and distributed for collective sense-making. Therefore, this project will try to solve these research questions specifically: In the context of a public crisis in China, how do people engage with crisis related news during social interactions on social media (Wechat)? How does social engagement with crisis related news influence people’s trust in news on social media? How does social engagement with crisis related news influence social trust, and what is the role of news trust?

To this end, I will apply a semi-structured interview with walk through and think aloud protocol to find out how people engage with crisis related news during social interactions. Based on the findings of the interview, I will identify the main factors of social engagement with news that may influence trust in news and social trust. It will be tested in a survey study using a representative sample for generalization.