Examining Effects of Informational Use of Social Media Platforms and Social Capital on Civic Engagement Regarding Genetically Modified Foods in China
Genetically modified (GM) foods constitute a hotly debated socioscientific issue in China, yet the topic is ostensibly absent from Chinese official media. Flourishing social media platforms appear to fill the void. To understand how the Chinese public engages in the GMO debate on various nationwide social media platforms, this study examines the role of social media and social capital (i.e., resources derived from social relationships, particularly in online communities) as predictors. Results of a large-scale online survey (N = 1,370) using a stratified quota sample showed that bridging social capital is a significant predictor of respondents’ likelihood of expressing opinions on the controversy on Chinese social media platforms. Moreover, this relationship was found to be mediated by use of social media for GMO-related information—greater bridging capital leads to more informed respondents about GMOs, which in turn predicts their willingness to speak their mind about the issue online. Our study also discusses the implications for social media as an emerging networked sphere for public deliberation in media-rich, information-poor China.