Viral misinformation and echo chambers : the diffusion of rumors about genetically modified organisms on social media

Research output: Journal Publications and Reviews (RGC: 21, 22, 62)21_Publication in refereed journalpeer-review

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1547-1564
Journal / PublicationInternet Research
Issue number5
Online published24 Jun 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


Purpose - The spread of rumors on social media has caused increasing concerns about an under-informed or even misinformed public when it comes to scientific issues. However, researchers have rarely investigated their diffusion in non-western contexts. This study aims to systematically examine the content and network structure of rumor-related discussions around genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on Chinese social media. Design/methodology/approach - This study identified 21,837 rumor-related posts of GMOs on Weibo, one of China's most popular social media platforms. An approach combining social network analysis and content analysis was employed to classify user attitudes toward rumors, measure the level of homophily of their attitudes and examine the nature of their interactions. Findings - Though a certain level of homophily existed in the interaction networks, referring to the observed echo chamber effect, Weibo also served as a public forum for GMO discussions in which cross-cutting ties between communities existed. A considerable amount of interactions emerged between the pro- and anti-GMO camps, and most of them involved providing or requesting information, which could mitigate the likelihood of opinion polarization. Moreover, this study revealed the declining role of traditional opinion leaders and pointed toward the need for alternative strategies for efficient fact-checking. Originality/value - In general, the findings of this study suggested that microblogging platforms such as Weibo can function as public forums for discussing GMOs that expose users to ideologically cross-cutting viewpoints. This study stands to provide important insights into the viral processes of scientific rumors on social media.

Research Area(s)

  • Chinese social media, Comments, Echo chamber, Genetically modified organism, Rumor