It was his first time giving a talk at HKBU School of Communication. But being among limited number of media research scholars with both journalistic practices and solid technical background, Dr. Kingwa Fu from HKU JMSC was well-received as the guest speaker at the February colloquium of D&N Society at HKBU.
Leader of new media research project Weiboscope as well as lecturer for Data Analytics course at HKU, Dr. Fu presented for around an hour at D&N to share about both his research and his insights from teaching data analytics for journalists. Faculties and students including undergrads, Master and PhD students, as well as an outspoken reporter alumnus from HKBU School of Communication had their visions broadened regarding the impending trend of leveraging social media and big data methods in journalistic explorations.
If you didn’t get a chance to attend the event yourself, don’t worry – D&N did the note-taking on Dr. Fu’s major points and is posting here a wrap-up of his most informing ideas. Check it out!
Why did Weibo stand out among online media platforms in China?
From a media research perspective, Dr. Fu believed that Weibo, the twitter-like service in China, went beyond its social media functionality to have further served as countervailing power in the network. Weibo has especially showed its power in agenda setting for grassroot movements, one of the earliest examples being the Qianyunhui case. Public opinion leaders on Weibo, also known as the “Big Vs”, were even able to contribute considerably in the anti-corruption wave in China, leading to the downfall of a few senior officials such as Liu Tienan.
How does Weiboscope work?
Weiboscope has its own website, mobile App, and above all, its own dataset. As of 2011-2012 only, for example, the team gathered a list of about 350 thousand profiles of users who have more than one thousand followers. The project conducts regular automated task to download the posts created by these users, and take notes when a post was found to have been deleted at the checking point. Thereby, a deleted-post timeline was tracked down, with all censored posts and profiles saved on the project website. With these data they also created a censorship index, using curves and graphics to show the dynamics going on in the weibo online sphere.
And guess what? You can have free access to all the data from this project, too.
With a belief in open source culture, all the data from this project have open access, free to use. Censored posts, profiles, datasets are all accessible on their website. If you are a PhD student, researcher, or lecturer in a relevant field, or if you are just trying to find a story from censored Weibo posts, you may find useful this free database useful!
But…Is Weibo dying?
Though remarkable and interesting work has been explored by Weiboscope, a critical issue came along with this project as it’s completely reliant on the very platform: is Weibo dying?
Dr. Fu admitted that crackdown of “Big V”s and the decreasing livelihood on Weibo are part of the challenges for this project. However, he held that Weibo is yet still a very important platform esp. for story-telling, reason being the restricted press freedom situation in China. Social media is playing a vital role amidst the tightened Internet control in the country, while Weibo as one of the biggest online forums still contains important posts and news stories.
Can Weiboscope data be accessed in mainland China?
Though the website is currently blocked in Mainland China, data can be accessed through their mobile App – there’s always a backup plan 🙂
Despite challenges such as project funding and online free speech crackdown, Dr. Fu and his team are still trying to work out more possibilities through interdisciplinary and collaboration with other research teams. For example, one of the future plans is to work with MIT Social Machine Lab, who has the full archive of Twitter, to explore whether there is any cross-platform correlavance. Sounds exciting!
How can journalists leverage the use of social media?
Social media has become a routine tool for journalists, yet the huge amount of social media information has become more than what we asked for. Working with reporters and having worked as a reporter himself, Dr. Fu suggested that journalists need to have systematic approach to social media data, such as finding out influential users on Weibo, so as to not get overwhelmed and lost in its information flood.
Dr. Kingwa Fu and his research outcomes have constantly made the headlines in international and local media outlets in Hong Kong. He had been invited for idea exchange on CNN, Bloomberg, as well as contributed to stories appearing in the Economist and others. It was D&N’s privilege to have him here for the pioneering colloquium after Chinese New Year. We hope you find the takeaways from his sharing helpful. Stay tuned.