Exploring the Use of Social Media as a Platform to Persuade the Public: A Comparative Study of the US and China
Turner, Jeanine W
The COVID-19 pandemic is a touchstone for the execution capacities of public health departments in more than 200 countries and territories. Asking people to adapt to new social norms and daily routines, the disease also becomes a test for citizens to choose between public health interests and personal freedom. To stop spreading COVID-19, both organizational and individual users tried to persuade the public to take coronavirus-related control and prevention measures on social media. This study compared persuasive strategies of the governments of the U.S. and China during a public health crisis using social media messages. Collecting data with R and Python from two national public health sectors' official accounts on Twitter (N = 1,630) and Sina Weibo (N = 3,554), I investigated how the organizations' messages reflected Cialdini's seven principles of persuasion and whether other emergent messaging patterns occurred. According to the different phases that the two countries had gone through during the pandemic, I also conducted a pooled times series analysis to investigate the relationship between the frequency of daily posts and the number of daily COVID-19 positive new cases in the two countries. The study found that the principle of authority was the most often used rule by the two countries, and a combination of directive and non-directive messages was detected. The research discussed the effectiveness of Cialdini's principles in an online context and provided recommendations regarding timely responses towards the development of the disease on social media, which may also help build up the organizations' credibility in public health crises.
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