TitleThe power of social media audiences: do social users actually play a role in child protection?An audience study examining the extent to which social media protest have an impact on child protection based on a case study analysing how social media users react to child abuse in a Chinese kindergarten.IntroductionThere has been several known protests or movements supported by social media tools since Internet use has become prevailing worldwide. According to The Washington Times (2009), protests against Iranian electoral fraud in 2009 is termed “Iran’s Twitter revolution” because protesters relied on social media especially Twitter to communicate. In the Arab Spring in the early 2010s, social media activity underwent a drastic rise in the background of protests and disturbance in the Arab world (Bruns, Highfield and Burgess 2013). These claims endorse the upside of social media in promoting social movements. Previous research has examined social media movements based on political claims including a comprehensive range of issues. From a global perspective, the #metoo movement, which especially went against sexual harassment, became viral at the end of 2017 due to the posts on Twitter (Manikonda et al. 2018). It then turned out to reach places outside the twitter service areas through other social platforms. Social media, in these contexts, are regarded as the driving force behind the swift spread of revolution.This research will focus on how social media audiences react to issues related to the protection of children and take the case in a Chinese kindergarten, which was reported child abuse in November 2017 and incurred resentment online. The incident is not the only news related to child violation in the context of the Internet while it generated much more anger and online discussion from social media users. Regarding the issue itself, what makes it a social focus might be the push of social media, namely, attractive stories, rich emotions and broad discussion space is added to the spread of the news. The wellbeing of children has been a concern of Chinese society despite the inadequate law system. Apart from decentralized public attention, key opinion leaders in this incident swiftly ignite the audience sentiment. Average social audiences, including clicktivists, activists, and celebrity fans, and current affair followers are mixed on social platforms. Does everyone enjoy their civic engagement in online debates? How many of them would utilize the power of social media to make a difference in the issue of child protection? This research will investigate the degree of involvement of social media audiences in child protection.Literature ReviewSome research examines the expression of social media users. Vegh (2003) divide online activism into three processes: awareness/advocacy, organization/mobilization and action/reaction. This reflects the degree to which Internet users engage in an incident. There has also been a focus on the public and private sphere. Social media platforms, seem to be the public sphere, allow users to express opinions and through a private media environment, which is a personal space (Papacharissi 2010). The status of being alone but not lonely in the private sphere come from connection and interaction on social media, which means personal expression can be released in the public domain. Some research provides an insight into the reasons why people mobilize on the Internet based on media and technology. The Internet has been argued to change the common understanding of power (Nye 2011, cited in Milan 2013). It is evident from these studies that the change of social environment is the key to the rise of online voices. From the individual perspective, the issue of self-disclosure on social websites has been put forward. Social media usage provides users with benefits and satisfaction related to the degree of self-presentation (Taddicken 2012).Some studies focus on the democratic participation of online users. Youth, an essential part of social media users, are increasingly using social websites to express their citizenship cognition which is characterized by personal forms of activism (Bosch 2017). While most research regard social media users as a part of political issues when studying related cases, some research link social network use to civic engagement, rather than political participation (Johnson, Zhang, Bichard, and Seltzer 2011). Research under the context of contemporary Chinese society sees social media as a significant source of information and means for civil mobilization, which are beneficial to the construction of a civil environment (Dong, Liang, and He 2016). Moreover, authors have significantly contributed to the technical implication of social media movements (Meikle 2002; Diamond 2010; Milan 2013). Castells (1996 and 2000) argued that information and communication technologies (ICTs) have formed the basis of political, economic, and social advance in the information age (cited in Milan 2013). The internet is where everyone can take part in and adapt to the technology, who does not just accept passively (Meikle 2002). What Diamond called liberation technology of the Internet gives the civic power to netizens, which offers a domain for them to report news, expose illegal acts, express opinions, raise concerns, mobilize protests, supervise elections, observe authorities, and claim rights (Hintz, Dencik, and Wahl-Jorgensen 2018). These studies explain the audience’s reaction from the perspective of technological revolution.Others examine the passivity of net audiences in terms of the limitations of online expression the importance of traditional mobilization efforts. “Gatekeepers of the public sphere”, instead of voices from social network, are conventional mass media, political campaigns led by the government, and commercial search engines (Hackett and Carroll 2006). The power of social media, to some extent, is exaggerated in some protests in spite of its positive mobilization (Aouragh/Alexander 2011; Bruns, Highfield and Burgess 2013). What is defective in Internet mobilization is enormous effort like spending hours in the streets persuading residents, posting leaflets and measuring the details of demonstrations (Aouragh/Alexander 2011). Furthermore, Morozov contends in 2011 that “cyber-utopianism” and “Internet-centrism” are delusions of the Internet. He criticizes the beliefs that the Internet is born with liberation power and every important issue concerning modern society and politics can be intervened by the Internet. This denies the autonomy of social networking democracy. By understanding the side effects on online civic engagement, we are able to realize the weaknesses of social media involvement.Morozov (2011) applies “slacktivism” to the context of social media, meaning participants can take action easily if communication costs are low such as click the “like button” button on Facebook or share a tweet to express their concerns about a certain heated issue without much consideration and effort. In this sense, social media audiences are not regarded as activists but slacktivists and clicktivists.In the spread of the child abuse news, there is also a need to take the possibility of post-truth into account, which is a term widely used in 2016 and named international word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries. It is widespread during the 2016 United States presidential election and the 2016 United Kingdom European Union membership referendum (Flood 2016). Post-truth ignores objective facts, catering to the emotions of the audience and strengthening a particular view to attract public attention and gain support. What could be inferred from this focus is that the convergence of the online public is not merely out of their interest, but also manipulation by both media and KOLs who are audiences themselves.While there has been much consideration about both the positive power and limitations of social media and its audiences in public events especially political ones, research into the causes of the uprising online opinions about child abuse and protection remains little. Kitzinger argues in 2004 that the media play a role in public understanding of child sexual abuse. This incurs the consideration that to what degree do social media audiences freely engage in their concerning affairs or led by social media?Aims This study will investigate the reaction of social media users and the extent to which they play a role in child protection based on a case study of Red yellow blue nursery child abuse incident in order to gain a deeper understanding on how social media audiences engage in public crisis events.ObjectivesReview academic research to investigate the reasons for the rise of debates and protests on social media.Build a case study of online reaction to child abuse in a Chinese kindergarten.Collect and analyse data from an Internet survey focusing on user behaviours to understand online participation from the audience perspective.JustificationExisting research has argued that social media have the power to mobilize protests and make a change in the real world. On the other hand, Dencik and Leistert (2015) question the extent to which social media have promoted protests. This study will focus on the social media audience, who are public opinion participants themselves. The revolutionary incidents are not merely made through digital tools, but also by the public. Accordingly, by studying user behaviours in an Internet debate, this research is able to understand how these users take part in. While political movements have gained a large amount of academic attention, social issues are relatively less discussed in terms of social media debates. The study will be in the context of Chinese society discussing child abuse and child protection, which is an essential topic among the public. However, whether the participation of social networking protests presents actual concerns or superficial formalism remains doubts. Gaining knowledge about how social media audiences considerate in terms of their expression in this incident, to some extent, could reflect the development of child protection.Research QuestionsRQ1: What factors have contributed to the rise of online public opinion?RQ2: To what extent do social media users involve in child abuse protest?RQ3: How do key opinion leaders use social platforms to promote child protection?Methodological ApproachThis research will adopt two approaches: case study and survey.This study will investigate how do social media audiences react in issues related to child abuse and child protection. A case study approach will be chosen since it might be visualized to focus on an incident that generates a significant volume of debates and protests. It is therefore raised up the Red yellow blue nursery child abuse incident, from which emerged not only common users to express opinions but also key opinion leaders to appeal for child protection. The study will collect and analyze posts by these users including celebrities who raise a voice in the process. However, a problem of this method is that each case is unique that can not be replicated. The study of one case concerned with protests against child abuse offers limited audience cognition.The research aims to investigate the audience behaviours, to be specific, the expression and action of social media users. In order to study this group, the other approach that will be used is survey targeted at netizens, the main body of which will be questionnaire including both closed and open questions to cover a comprehensive knowledge of the results. When it comes to respondents, the questionnaire will distinguish their identities into ordinary users and those who are parents or teachers themselves. This would be useful in analyzing their consideration of online participation. The research will conduct a survey on Weibo, the Chinese social platform, where is the most voices gathered during the discussion of the child abuse incident. The value of a Weibo survey lies in its ability to reach a substantial amount of audiences and gather data in a short time. With the help of internet survey tools, the study is able to collect and analyze data automatically. A major disadvantage, however, is possible misunderstandings due to the lack of explanation in an anonymous online survey.Ethical Issues and Practical ObstaclesAn ethical concern that might emerge in this project is informed consent. Some social media posts and comments will be collected to analyze user behaviours regarding their expression. However, not all public information is suitable for capture (Zimmer 2010). To overcome this, the study will try to make these contents anonymous whenever possible. Another possible ethical issue is researcher bias. The researcher’s standpoints might play a role in the survey so as to affect the results. This could be overcome by designing questionnaire objectively, testing before conducting, sticking to the original data.Due to the fact that the case in the research is not up-to-date, the respondents’ memory deviation might generate survey response errors. This can be dealt with by restating and reviewing the child abuse incident before the survey starts to help respondents arouse their memories and get ready to answer questions.TimelineTASK END DATEResearch proposal 11th December 2018Literature review 21st January 2019Case data collection 24th February2019Case data analysis 10th March2019Survey design 24th March 2019survey conduct 12nd April 2019Survey data analysis 3rd May 2019First draft July 2019Final dissertation August 2019Word Count: 2128References Bosch, T. 2017. Twitter activism and youth in South Africa: the case of #RhodesMustFall. 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