Date of Award

8-1-2015

Degree Name

Master of Arts

Department

Mass Communication and Media Arts

First Advisor

Freivogel, William

Abstract

As one of the most popular social media platforms in China, Sina Weibo has created an environment for the Chinese people to share opinions and post information on events they have witnessed. Thus, Weibo users can be citizen journalists, though most of them have played the role unconsciously. Although Weibo has existed for about six years, citizen journalism is still new to most Chinese people. Some scholars have studied Weibo from the perspective of public opinion or better governance rather than from its ethical demands and influence. This paper discusses the ethical problems of citizen journalism that arose in three case studies where Weibo posts were immediate sources of news and information on disasters and were considered important by mainstream media and the public, but where the posts also provided false information. In addition, a survey found that most Chinese respondents had posted news or information on Weibo, but very few consider themselves citizen journalists. Surprisingly, non-journalists are no more likely to trust citizen journalism than are journalists. Non-journalists are getting more news from citizen journalism on Weibo about national disasters, but they put more trust and credibility in mainstream media. Respondents thought witnessing events and quickly reporting on them were the biggest advantages of citizen journalists, while the biggest problems were bias, emotional reports, rumor and invasion of privacy. About two-thirds of respondents think self-restraint is the best way to handle ethical problems resulting from citizen journalists, but about half favor more legislation. In a striking difference from Western expectations, a relatively small percentage of Chinese respondents think independence from the government is an important journalistic value. Finally, the paper concludes that the public sphere concept is relevant in China in the wake economic reforms and the advent of social media. And it argues that the theory of existential journalism may offer an ethical guide for China’s citizen journalists by emphasizing both freedom and personal responsibility. Finally it suggests that mainstream media, journalists and media scholars play the main role of promoting journalistic ethical values on Weibo.

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