How does social media drive the adjudication of food safety cases?

Project: Research project

Project Details


A survey conducted in 2013 by the Pew Research Center reported that 76% of Chinese respondents considered food safety to be a “very big” or “moderately big” problem in China (Pew Research Center, 2013). Food safety has been one of the top public concerns in China for decades. To address this issue, the Chinese government promulgated the updated Food Safety Laws in 2009 and 2015. However, due to the broad administrative structure and deficient governance, the implementation of food safety laws is very difficult. Without appropriate incentives and constraints, court cases regarding food safety issues might be too brief or lead to unfair results. This project seeks an effective oversight method for justice in food safety court cases. The method that we investigate is the monitoring function of social media, namely, Sina Weibo in China. Since its inception in 2009, Sina Weibo has gained tremendous popularity and has become an important tool of expression, an important platform for outbreaks of striking economic and political events, and a repository of many public events. Sina Weibo represents public opinion, which could put pressure on Chinese officials, especially local officials. Sina Weibo is also an effective tool for the central government to monitor local officials. Therefore, local governors as well as judges cannot ignore opinions expressed on social media and may be influenced by social media.

We address three issues in this study. First, we investigate whether Sina Weibo can affect the adjudication of court cases on food safety issues. Second, we discuss the channels by which social media can affect such trials. We test three possible channels: (a) the impact comes solely from local public attention, which tends to shape the reputation of government officials; (b) the impact comes from network effects, and for prefectures that are well connected with many other prefectures via social media, news of injustice or scandal spreads quickly. Given the threat of disclosure, officials in a wellconnected prefecture pay more attention to public opinion expressed on social media; (c) the impact comes from peers at the same level. When other officials from the region show great passion on social media, judges will follow a similar strategy. Third, we examine whether jurors react differently than judges to social media and determine the main source of the media’s impact on adjudication.
Effective start/end date1/01/2430/06/26


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