Bulletin No. 2, 2019

17 They Stand on the Shoulders of Giants Analyst of Going Viral Social media content spreads in a broadcast way (one-to-many), a viral way (person- to-person), or a combination of the two. Different diffusion patterns can influence the degree of selective sharing, or the extent to which individuals share attitude- consistent content. Instead of examining psychological mechanisms, Prof. Liang Hai empirically tests the relationship between diffusion patterns and the degree to which people engage in selective sharing. Nowadays individuals are more inclined to share or retweet social media messages they identify with. Professor Liang studied a large-scale diffusion dataset from Twitter, which involves 297,566 users (942,395 retweets from 44,747 original tweets posted by 337 Congress members). These shares involve cross-ideological sharing under a viral diffusion model, which increases the recipients’ exposure to diversified ideas. He explains that different diffusion patterns can influence the degree of selective sharing. The study has integrated two mainstream research traditions in communication studies: information diffusion and selectivity. He says, ‘Not many researchers have paid attention to the structure and social process of diffusion patterns.’ Communication researchers have been arguing that the boundary between mass and interpersonal communication is blurring on social media, while his study demonstrates the two communication processes still have specific mechanisms and effects. According to Professor Liang, viral diffusion, in contrast to the broadcast model of information sharing among homogenous individuals, can spread information widely across individuals with diverse backgrounds. It increases the likelihood of cross-ideological sharing and thus increases political diversity on social media. He opines that senders may use the viral model to reach new audiences. His findings contribute to the debate on whether social media are beneficial to political diversity and deliberative democracy. Compared to traditional representative democracy that involves proxy voting, deliberative democracy adopts elements of both consensus decision-making and majority rule. He says, ‘Social media, which have been celebrated for facilitating person-to-person communications, are more capable of fostering political diversity than broadcast media.’ Professor Liang focuses on the application of computational methods for answering long-standing communication research questions, such as political deliberation, information diffusion, and health communication. His research has contributed to various aspects of human communication theories, including their content, structure, diffusion, use and comparative studies. He finds CUHK’s environment conducive to his research development. ‘As I am working on computational social science and big data, it is very important to have powerful computing machines. The School of Journalism and Communication has purchased high-performance computing servers for the digital media data initiative, making my study possible.’ ‘It is very important to have powerful computing machines for computational social science and big data studies. The high-performance servers of the School has made my study possible.’