Social media can bring participatory democracy

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Theoretical frame and concepts


Foucault notes that discourse as knowledge: the product of specific social, historical, institutional and political conditions that render certain statements truthful and meaningful, and others false, marginalized and deviant. And he also mention that, discourse can define and address specific things in society‖ (Orgad, 2012, p27).
As Foucault said that discourse is production of knowledge, and it also can define and address specific things in society. Olausson (2013) also mentioned that, character of discourse is to describe people, events, phenomenon in different place. Those places can be local, own countries, foreign countries in all over the world. Every element is linked together. Bryman also described that: ‗discourse‘ was a term that denoted the way in which a particular set of linguistic categories relating to an object and the ways of depicting it frame the way we comprehend that object (Bryman, 2016, p 531)
Discourse is not only a language helps people communicate and understand, but also a component of the world and the focus of concern in society. Discourse is a description of reality, it can reflect the reality. Bryman (2016) also described that discourse is the solution to the problem and the focus on investigation; it contains rhetoric which is a way of trying to persuade others. Discourse is not only a means of conveying meaning, but also a thing that people do in conversation and writing.


Wherever there is persuasion, there is rhetoric. And wherever there is ‗meaning‘, there is persuasion‘. Food, eaten and digested, is not rhetorical. But in the meaning of food there is much rhetoric, the meaning being persuasive enough for the idea of food to be used, like the ideas of religion, as a rhetorical device for statesmen.‖ (cited by Eyman, 2015, p.20).
As Eyman (2015) described that almost all interpersonal relationships contain rhetoric, so rhetoric can be used for all communication practice. Rhetoric is a persuasive artistic means of communication, it also the art of shaping society. Medieval rhetoric is mainly used for missionary and legal letter writing. Rhetoric is also the main style of writing poetry. During the renaissance rhetoric is applied to private discourse. In the Enlightenment, the style of rhetorical is constantly changing. Contemporary rhetoricians argue that rhetoric is a study of language which can affect people’s behavior (Eyman, 2015, p.24). Eyman also mentioned the viewpoint of Chaim Perelman that: ―rhetoric is useful for undermining any claim to any form of knowledge that is absolute (and therefore beyond argument); instead knowledge arises through argument (persuasive rhetoric) within communities that share assumptions and beliefs‖ (Eyman, 2015, p.25).The power of rhetoric is that it can produce persuasive discourse. The meaning of rhetoric is its use and context, it can reveal ideological action.
I will regard the discourse and rhetoric theory as my theoretical framework. As Bryman (2016) stated that discourse is a flexible way to analyze articles and texts. Analyzing discourse does not take into external determinant. It concentrates on text and looking for potential implications in discourse. Language is a way of behaving, and it can be used to present oneself. Flick (2014) noted that analyzing discourse not only includes daily conversations, but also includes interviews, media reports and articles.
Rhetorical analysis emphasizes the ways in which arguments are constructed either in speech or in written texts and the role that various linguistic devices (such as metaphor, analogy,andirony) play in the formulation of arguments‖. (Bryman, 2016, p 539)
Rhetoric has analytical ability to find some invisible relationship. Rhetoric is also a good tool to help people to analyze the language of the text and social behavior. In study of rhetoric, the text is the form of expression of controversy or persuasive discourse. When studying the text, ―textual, contextual, cultural, temporal, intentionality, and intertextuality‖ (Eyman, 2015, p.32) should be considered, which will helps me to analyze the text and understand the purpose of the text author. I will focus on the author’s expression. With the evolution of modern social means of communication, rhetoric is adapting to changing, but it is often difficult to find rhetoric in these new media. In social media, rhetoric is often underutilized or incorrectly used. If social media users use the rhetorical correctly, they will create more influence. They will also gain the ability to use emotion to attract support. Social media can become a platform for the development of social influence, only if people can use rhetoric effectively. When I am doing rhetorical analysis, I will combine original post and comments to do argument and analysis. I’ll find some typical sentences to do rhetorical analysis. Audiences commented because they were interested in a point of the article, which prove the rhetoric of the post attracted the attention of the audience. So combining the audiences‘ comments is a way to find rhetorical sentences of the post.

Method and material


On January 24, 2017, an event made a great sensation on Weibo. A woman posted a long post which has 18000 Chinese characters on Weibo. In general, the average length of post on Weibo is 140 characters. Most Weibo users use less than 140 words combine pictures to share their lives. 140 characters are enough to express people‘s normal mood in daily life. But the author used 18000 characters to describe this event and express her mind at that time, which is quite unusual on Weibo. The woman described she was brutally beaten by some men when she travelled in Li Jiang (a city in China). This post also included some pictures that the face of the woman was seriously disfigured. This post attracted thousands of people to pay close attention in a short time. At the beginning, the author did not have many followers on Weibo. But this post can also attract lots of attention. Many people reposted and commented on this post. Till I collected the data, the author had more than 260 thousand followers. In my research I will analyze one original post which is the hottest on this woman‘s page on Sina Weibo. This post also include 9 pictures, those pictures will help me to analyze the content of the post. I chose 100 comments which from this post to do the second research question.


To study the first research question which is how does an individual user of a social network succeeds in attracting attention to a problem? I chose a post which is the most attractive on the woman‘s Weibo page. Till I collected the data, this post has 537925 comments, 604602 people ―Like‖ this post, and this post was forwarded by Weibo users 445252 times. This paper intends to conduct a rhetorical analysis of the post of Weibo. Aristotle defined rhetoric as ―the faculty of discovering the possible means of persuasion in reference to any subject whatever‖ (cited by Zhang, 2016, p.9).
Language is very important to study human communication. People’s words can form attitudes and induce the behavior of others (Zhang, 2016, p.9). Rhetorical analysis can help me find that whether the post is persuasive.
Any language can reveal some truths; by analyzing the meaning of words can reveal the values and ideology, so that we can understand the different meanings of different discourses in different contexts (Zhang, 2016). ―Online posts are rhetorical in that they seek self-promotion and articulate personal experience, attempting to put individuals in a desirable light‖ (Zhang, 2016, p.9). In addition, ―a primary focus of rhetorical analysis is on interpretation of language regarding its use for the purpose of influencing others‖ (Amos, Spears &Pentina, 2016, p231). According to rhetorical theory, we can analyze the persuasion of the post through several means. I choose four classic rhetorical means: the credibility of the woman (ethos), emotional appeals (pathos), logical appeals (logos) (Amos, Spears &Pentina, 2016, p.231) and Metaphor. When I study this question I read the original Chinese post and translate it to English. According to four means (Ethos, Pathos, Logos and Metaphor) to analyze it and found some typical sentences combine with whole context to research how the author persuade audiences.
To study the second research question which is how does the public respond and interact in a viral social network post? I selected ―Hot comments‖ to do research. ―Hot comments‖ is a unique part of Sina Weibo, which relevant because the response to them is higher. In comments area, we can choose two ways to browse comments, such as ―hot comments‖ and ―in chronological order‖. ―Hot comments‖ is representative, the responses is more, so that the comment can arouse more interest of audiences. The collection of the top hot comments was collected manually, because the data was protected by Sina Weibo. The data cannot be search through the search engine, such as Google. I found the post of Li Jiang Event was posted by the woman, and comments to the post can be displayed right below the post itself. Then I collected the data, there were 537925 comments below the post. The comments were divided into two categories, one is ―hot comments‖, the other is chronological order (see figure 1). I selected top 100 ―hot comments‖ to do quantitative content analysis. I used SPSS to do quantitative content analysis. Quantitative content analysis is an approach to analyze texts, pictures and oral texts. It is a flexible method which can be used to different media to generate data for analyzing text. SPSS can help me to explain the phenomenon through the numerical analysis, which is used for the objective and quantitative analysis of the content. I want to study the contents of the SPSS encoding. The data, analysis of data changes are clear via SPSS and draw a final conclusion.
According to Bryman (2016), I create a codebook with variables and code in SPSS by following my code book,I coded 5 variables, e.g. sex of post‘s responder, attitude of comment, number of ―like‖, number of people response comment, date gap between comment date and post date, each variable corresponded to some values.
The ways of interaction of public on Weibo are comment, ―like‖ and forward. It is more difficult to find the forward contents on Weibo, but the number of people ―like‖ comment and the number of people response comment are easier to search. So I coded one of the variables is attitude of comment, and I classified the selected comments. The gender of post‘s responders, attitude of comment, number of people ―like‖ comment, number of comments‘ replies and the reply time of each comment are clearly on Weibo page. In application of Weibo, each person only clicking ―like‖ one time, they cannot repeat to clicking ―like‖. But people can repeat to reply one comment many times. By analyzing the relationship between attitude of comment and other variables, which can analyze what kind of comments can get more interaction and responds. The result of data was showed by frequencies tables and crosstabs. In the analysis, I will combine the content of the original post and the comments of the audiences to do the analysis and research. Because the original text has 18000 Chinese characters, I will choose more representative sentences to analyze. The codebook and tables will be posted at the end of this thesis.

Strengths and weaknesses

The post of the case which I chose was representative and famous. When the woman posted the long blog, many Weibo users cared about this event, and the post was forwarded, commented and endorsed by Weibo users for thousands and thousands times. That I used quantitative content analysis to conduct this research showcases objectivity. According to Bryman (2016), content analysis is a research technique for the objective, systematic and quantitative description of the main test content of communication. Content analysis is not only about counting, but also about creating meaning from what is counted and measured. The advantage of quantitative research is that it can provide descriptive data. However, sufficient samples are required to obtain the validity of a statistical test to determine whether the results are accurate. The sample of my research is relatively small, which may not be sufficient to yield statistical significance. The amount of sampled comments is 100 which is not a large number in this research, but the 100 comments which I chose were among the hottest ones. Therefore, the results can be trusted.
As Bauer & Gaskell mentioned that ―documents can be analyzed rhetorically to very good effect‖ (2000, p.218), rhetorical analysis is a flexible and interpretive way to analyze texts. ―The power of rhetorical analysis is its immediacy, its ability to talk about the particular and the possible‖ (Bauer & Gaskell, 2000, p.211). Nevertheless, ―the main weakness of rhetorical analysis is the extent of its formalisms‖ (Bauer & Gaskell,2000,p.218). Rhetoric is a kind of qualitative analysis. It is mainly by virtue of intuition and experience of the analyst, as well as information and characteristics of the analytic target to make judgment.
Quantitative content analysis is appropriate to analyze data with a big sample size and is usually less specific than qualitative research methods. Qualitative research methods handle a smaller sample selection and include a deeper analysis. I combined these two methods which are complementary. Qualitative analysis is the basic premise of quantitative analysis. If there are not qualitative analysis methods, quantitative is blind and worthless. Quantitative analysis methods are more scientific and accurate, which can lead qualitative analysis to draw more profound conclusions.


Analysis of result

To address RQ1, firstly, the object of the analysis is a post written by a woman. If a blogger wants someone to share his/her posts extensively, the premise is that he/she needs to have enough followers. Zhang & Negro (2013) noted that every Weibo user has his/her own « Following » group and « Followers » group, but the post not only can be shared by users in group but also be shared by outsiders. ―Communication through Weibo starts from an individual sharing with their follower groups and then, after several layers of group sharing, the message may reach the mass‖ (Zhang& Negro, 2013, p.207). However, the woman did not have many followers at the beginning. Then why did this post still receive a lot of reposts and comments? Moreover, this post has more than 1800 Chinese characters. Weibo is a platform of social media, and such a long post like the woman posted on Weibo is relatively rare.
As Bauer & Gaskell (2000) described, rhetorical analysis is from who/what/where/when/why aspects to analyze. When doing rhetorical analysis, it is very important to determine the spirit of the rhetoric of the selected text to ensure the analysis is contextualized (p.212). Rhetorical analysis should combine context, text and audience together (Bauer & Gaskell, 2000). The context of discourse is of great importance in order to contextualize the analysis. This woman was beaten when she traveled in Li Jiang, leading to her disfiguration and medical treatments. This post was divided into two sections. In the first section, the woman described the whole process and details about how she was beaten by several men. In the second section, she wrote that after she called the police, the attitude and manner of the police handling the case disappointed and irritated her. In this context, she wrote this long post on Weibo. From the rhetorical point of view, this post is persuasive. The author used four rhetorical ways, including Pathos, Ethos, Logos and Metaphor. Below I will analyze the rhetorical methods the woman used respectively.


This woman was the protagonist of this post, which was written in the first person. This event happened in a very famous tourist city (Li Jiang) in China. The incident took place at 3:30 am on November 11, 2016, and the post was posted on January 24, 2017. The reason for her to post this incident on Weibo could be explained by a quote: »Record the things at this moment, let you know that I felt wronged and suffer from injustice ». This woman wanted to narrate her encounter through Weibo. This sentence is an appeal to emotion, and she wanted the audience to know the violence she had suffered and the injustice she had experienced. The author created an emotional response to persuade the audience to trust her. From the ―hot comments‖ area we can find a comment which got most ―likes‖ and most responses. The comment said ―Let me to repost it. Hope more and more people can read your post and you can get more help!” This comment got more than two thousand and sixty hundred ―likes‖ and more than ten thousand replies. This proves that the woman got the support of the majority.
From another point of view, according to the table in Figure 3, among the 100 samples, 48% of the comments got 1001-10000 endorsers, and 25% of the comments got 10001-100000 endorsers. Among the unsupported comments, less than 100 endorsers reached the highest ones and accounted for 71.4% of the comments. In the sample of comments that Weibo users denounced Li Jiang police, 66.7% of the endorsers fell in the interval of 1001-10000, and 22.2% of endorsers in the interval of 10001-100000, while endorsers of less than 100 and 101-1000 were 0%. There were 57.1% of the comments that Weibo users expressed support got endorsed in the interval of 10001-100000. In the comments of sharing useful information, there were 50% of comment got 10001 100000 endorsers.
The audience was also very important to the post of this woman. The audience of the speech and the audience of the text are different. Bauer & Gaskell (2000) stated that the audiences of oral performers are immediate, and the audience of the text should identify through the analysis. The feelings of the audience of the speech and that of the text are totally different. The degree of enjoyment the audience gets from a speech could be affected by the performer’s mood, behavior, movement, and expression of the infection, while the text readers can only rely on themselves to analysis and distinguish the experience and emotional content that the authors want to express. To some extent, the micro-blog, as a form of text to post, can also trigger such a stir. This is also very worthy of making a sound research.
The audience is positioned in some way. This post is about social problem. The assertion of rights is a common phenomenon on Weibo, and more and more people gain justice through Weibo in recent years. The audience of this post is extensive. First of all, this post is about a woman‘s disfiguration. From the pictures in the post we can see that her face was injured severely. In this post the author used emotions to attract and persuade the audience. This skill is Pathos, which is one of the rhetorical methods. For example, the author wrote « We were hit by them violently until we feel dizzy. Then they dragged me out of the restaurant and exerted all their strength to pull my hair. […] My face was beaten and full of blood, and they used the broken bottle to scratch my face […] I vomited blood and I could not breathe ». Through this description, the author let the audience understand the experience of her. The audience knew that the woman was beaten by many men. Through the comments of the audience we can see that this woman got a lot of sympathized comments. For instance, « I sympathize with you. » »I hope you will recover soon… » »Come on, everything will be fine… » »I hope you will be strong and brave… » ―God bless you.‖ The post also attracted some audience to express anger to the suspects. They said « Those men are rogues. » »I hate the criminals. » ―Why those men bullied a woman, so hateful. »
―Another form of persuasive argument is the appeal to emotion‖ (Bauer & Gaskell, 2000, p.214). The most important means of persuasion of this post is to evoke emotions. Some of the words in the post can stimulate sympathy and anger. For example, ―…They dragged me out of the restaurant and my hair was pulled by three or four men. They beat me. They not only beat me but also recording video. They felt that the video was not working well, they pulled my hair and let my face turned to the sky…My face was beaten and full off blood, they used the broken bottle to scratch my face… They kicked me venomously before leaving. I vomited blood and I could not breathe… » This woman described the process and the details of the violence. She described the action of the perpetrators and her state of being beaten. She wanted the audience to be able to experience her pain through her description. For instance, she wrote that ―…three of us were beaten by those men for half an hour… »She used time to show the duration of pain that she had suffered. This woman expressed her helplessness through the description of the number of perpetrators, the situation that no one helped them call the police in the process of violence, and the difficulties of doing injury identification.
According to rhetorical theory, we can analyze the persuasion of the post in several aspects: the credibility of the woman (ethos), emotional appeals (pathos), « presenting evidence for a given truth » (logos) (Amos, Spears &Pentina, 2015, p.231). Generally, establishing credibility of authorities is critical in the scientific article. In this post, credibility establishment is also very important for the author, otherwise audiences may doubt the reality of what she posted. Confirming her identity is the first step to establish credibility. After her transmitted the post, she applied for authentication to Sina Weibo (Figure 4). A ―V‖ logo can be found at her Weibo home page, which means her identity has been verified. ―(Dong a litigant was beaten and disfigured in Li Jiang)‖ was written by this woman in her brief introduction on Weibo home page.
From this article, angry emotion can also be found. She described that ―We were beaten in this barbecue restaurant for a long time. The owner of the restaurant did not call the police and ambulance. When I was beaten by those men, he just watched with no mercy. When I was in hospital, I asked police to do injury identification, but they refused. When nurse was recording the detail of my injury, he did not record the biggest wound; they ignored length and depth of the biggest wound on purpose. » She shows her despair by describing these unfair. In this post, the pictures attached can also express emotion. A post can attach at most 9 pictures on Weibo. In this post, 5 pictures are close-up picture of the woman’s face, 2 pictures are close picture of this woman when she was in hospital, and the other 2 pictures are photos of this woman‘s beautiful face before she got any injury. The visual impact of photos is great. Audiences can see detail of the wound clearly and realize seriousness of the injury. Those pictures were evidence and proving the credibility and authenticity of this post, which is persuasive.

Table of contents
Sina Weibo
Aim and research questions
Previous Research
Public opinion
Social media can bring participatory democracy
The role of Weibo
Privacy, public sphere and social media
Theoretical frame and concepts
Method and material
Strengths and weaknesses
Analysis of result
Logos and Metaphor
Positive comments
Negative comments
Results of data
Discussion and conclusion

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