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Roles of information propagation of Chinese microblogging users in epidemics: a crisis management perspective

Li Sun (Department of Computer and Information Science, Faculty of Science and Technology, University of Macau, Taipa, Macao)
Patrick Cheong-Iao Pang (Victoria University Business School, Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia)
Yain-Whar Si (Department of Computer and Information Science, Faculty of Science and Technology, University of Macau, Taipa, Macao)

Internet Research

ISSN: 1066-2243

Article publication date: 12 November 2020

Issue publication date: 10 March 2021

257

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this research is to investigate the usage characteristics and the information propagation patterns of Chinese microblogs in different stages of an epidemic, given that the microblogging in China is different from other parts of the world. In addition, the authors aim to conceptualize the roles of different users and provide insights for using microblogging platforms to disseminate information in this context.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors conducted an analysis on Sina Weibo microblogs about the African Swine Fever epidemic from August to October 2018. The authors firstly applied a label propagation algorithm to classify users into government, media, verified users and nonverified users. The authors analyzed several user metrics, traced the information propagation patterns of their microblogs and calculated the average speed of information propagation using computational approaches.

Findings

The authors’ findings show that different types of users played different roles, such as supplying information, amplifying information, relaying information and engaging with other users. The microblogs posted by media dominated the propagation in most cases, but general users can propagate information faster. The direction of information propagation is one-way for the majority of microblogs, and few users repost earlier information. Additionally, microblogs attract more attention at the beginning and the middle phases of an epidemic. In the context of managing epidemics, the authors recommend governments and other verified users can work together to use microblogging platforms efficiently.

Originality/value

This research is one of the few studies to investigate information propagation patterns of different user categories on a Chinese microblogging platform during an epidemic. The authors’ work can be used by government agencies and public health authorities for disseminating information efficiently during epidemics or emergencies, especially in the early stages.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This research was funded by the Research Committee of University of Macau, under grant MYRG2018-00246-FST. Author Pang completed part of this work during his appointment at the School of Computing and Information Systems of the University of Melbourne, and he felt grateful for their limited support for this research. The authors would also like to thank Prof. Kin Sun Chan from the University of Macau for his advice and contributions in this paper.

Citation

Sun, L., Pang, P.C.-I. and Si, Y.-W. (2021), "Roles of information propagation of Chinese microblogging users in epidemics: a crisis management perspective", Internet Research, Vol. 31 No. 2, pp. 540-561. https://doi.org/10.1108/INTR-11-2019-0490

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited

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