Networked Framing Between Source Posts and Their Reposts: An Analysis of Public Opinion On China's Microblogs

27 September 2016

Retweeting a post on a social media platform is a part of a process of growing significance through which public opinion formation takes place. A ‘retweet count’ on, say Twitter or weibo, can be taken as a measure of user influence. The assumption is that when B retweets A’s message, B empathizes with A and wishes to disseminate the message more widely. But this assumption has hardly been tested and preliminary evidence suggests practices for retweeting on Twitter vary. Nor can retweeting practices on Twitter be assumed to apply on weibo. This paper makes the first effort to understand the practice of reposting on China’s weibo, focusing on the content of reposts in comparison to that of the original messages. A quantitative comparison is made of the frame [Entman, R. M. (1993). Framing: Toward clarification of a fractured paradigm. Journal of Communication, 43(4), 51–58; Gamson, W. A., & Modigliani, A. (1989). Media discourse and public opinion on nuclear power: A constructionist approach. American Journal of Sociology, 95, 1–37] of the source post of 21 cases, and their reposts. The posts and reposts all refer to the issue of officials being exposed for corruption on Sina Weibo. The study finds sound evidence of networked framing, in which reposters revised frames of the source posters while disseminating them. Although over half of the reposts merely republished the source post without added content, what emerged were new communicative functions, case definitions, and a diagnosis of the consequences of exposing the cases. However, different types of user accounts drew different reposting frames, which points to a consistent paradigm between the source accounts and the reposters. The results are important for understanding the mechanisms behind the formation of public opinion on weibo.