Viral misinformation and echo chambers: the diffusion of rumors about genetically modified organisms on social media

Xiaohui WANG, Celine SONG*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

53 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: The spread of rumors on social media has caused increasing concerns about an under-informed or even misinformed public when it comes to scientific issues. However, researchers have rarely investigated their diffusion in non-western contexts. This study aims to systematically examine the content and network structure of rumor-related discussions around genetically modified organisms (GMOs) on Chinese social media. Design/methodology/approach: This study identified 21,837 rumor-related posts of GMOs on Weibo, one of China's most popular social media platforms. An approach combining social network analysis and content analysis was employed to classify user attitudes toward rumors, measure the level of homophily of their attitudes and examine the nature of their interactions. Findings: Though a certain level of homophily existed in the interaction networks, referring to the observed echo chamber effect, Weibo also served as a public forum for GMO discussions in which cross-cutting ties between communities existed. A considerable amount of interactions emerged between the pro- and anti-GMO camps, and most of them involved providing or requesting information, which could mitigate the likelihood of opinion polarization. Moreover, this study revealed the declining role of traditional opinion leaders and pointed toward the need for alternative strategies for efficient fact-checking. Originality/value: In general, the findings of this study suggested that microblogging platforms such as Weibo can function as public forums for discussing GMOs that expose users to ideologically cross-cutting viewpoints. This study stands to provide important insights into the viral processes of scientific rumors on social media.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1547-1564
Number of pages18
JournalInternet Research
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 22 Jun 2020

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics

User-Defined Keywords

  • Chinese social media
  • Comments
  • Echo chamber
  • Genetically modified organism
  • Rumor


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