Gauging Public Sentiment and Mutual Misperception through Online Discussion Forums: Analyzing Contentious Issues between Hong Kong and Mainland China

Project: Research project

Project Details


This study focuses on discursive struggles in online discussion forums over contentious issues that provoke major conflicts between Hong Kong and mainland China residents. While mass media rarely provide a space for individuals to express their views, computer-mediated discussion tools--above all, online discussion forums--serve not only as a platform for a wider range of actors to struggle over the conflicts, but also as an active agenda-setter and interpreter of such conflicts. Traditional survey methods and polls have not been able to grasp the general pattern and evolving dynamics of online conversation. This study will investigate two most important online forums (i.e. Hong Kong Golden Forum and the mainland's Tianya Club) to map out the structure of users' online networks and the distribution of their attitudes towards major conflictual issues. We will integrate network analysis and content analyses to examine previously inaccessible aspects of user interaction: particularly, the network structures that link online debaters to the heuristics of their attitudes. Grounded in a larger theoretical debate, we shall analyze what factors serve to consolidate group homophily that attracts people of the same opinions, and what factors serve to reduce the degree of group heterophily that presumably should promote exchanges between people of different opinions. How do netizens of distinct attitudes towards Hong Kong-mainland conflicts differ in their bond of homophily? To what extent are the users of a particular attitude hostile towards those holding a different attitude? This would help us better understand whether online discussion forums serve as integrators of opinion or as polarizing "echo chambers." Moreover, we will analyze topical and linguistic characteristics of root messages that contribute to vibrant response from the online public. To what extent do root messages cite media coverage or other sources to clarify, reinforce or develop their opinions and how does it affect netizen response? Moreover, we will trace how Hong Kong and mainland Chinese netizens present themselves and the "other side," normatively and descriptively. In their eyes, what are the causes and consequences of the conflicts? What are the facts or assumptions that undergird their arguments and presentation? This research will examine how the posts in online forums can be harnessed to estimate public sentiment, particularly those of socially active citizens. A series of recent mass protests in Hong Kong testify to an acute need for more enlightened and evidence-based policymaking.
Effective start/end date1/01/171/08/17

UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This project contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being


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