Skip to main content
×
×
Home

A War of (Mis)Information: The Political Effects of Rumors and Rumor Rebuttals in an Authoritarian Country

  • Haifeng Huang
Abstract

Despite the prevalence of anti-government rumors in authoritarian countries, little is currently known about their effects on citizens’ attitudes toward the government, and whether the authorities can effectively combat rumors. With an experimental procedure embedded in two surveys about Chinese internet users’ information exposure, this study finds that rumors decrease citizens’ trust in the government and support of the regime. Moreover, individuals from diverse socio-economic and political backgrounds are similarly susceptible to thinly evidenced rumors. Rebuttals generally reduce people’s belief in the specific content of rumors, but often do not recover political trust unless the government brings forth solid and vivid evidence to back its refutation or win the endorsement of public figures broadly perceived to be independent. But because such high-quality and strong rebuttals are hard to come by, rumors will erode political support in an authoritarian state. These findings have rich implications for studies of rumors and misinformation in general, and authoritarian information politics in particular.

  • View HTML
    • Send article to Kindle

      To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

      Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

      Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

      A War of (Mis)Information: The Political Effects of Rumors and Rumor Rebuttals in an Authoritarian Country
      Available formats
      ×
      Send article to Dropbox

      To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

      A War of (Mis)Information: The Political Effects of Rumors and Rumor Rebuttals in an Authoritarian Country
      Available formats
      ×
      Send article to Google Drive

      To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

      A War of (Mis)Information: The Political Effects of Rumors and Rumor Rebuttals in an Authoritarian Country
      Available formats
      ×
Copyright
Footnotes
Hide All
*

Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of California, Merced (e-mail: hhuang24@ucmerced.edu). I am grateful to Steve Nicholson, Tom Hansford, Evan Heit, Xiaobo Lu, Brendan Nyhan, Danie Stockmann, Yao-Yuan Yeh, and four anonymous reviewers for detailed and valuable comments. Brett Benson, Terry Nichols Clark, Rick Dales, Matt Hibbing, Pierre Landry, Peter Lorentzen, Anne Meng, Mike Munger, Mehdi Shadmehr, Susan Shirk, Jiangnan Zhu and audiences at MPSA, Duke University (Political Science), UC Berkeley (Center for Chinese Studies) and UC San Diego (IR/PS) have also offered helpful suggestions on previous versions of the article. Data replication sets are available at https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataverse/BJPolS, and online appendices are available at http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1017/S0007123415000253.

Footnotes
References
Hide All
Allport, Gordon W., and Postman, Leo. 1947. The Psychology of Rumor. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
Bauer, Raymond A., and Gleicher, David B.. 1953. Word-of-Mouth Communication in the Soviet Union. Public Opinion Quarterly 17 (3):297310.
Berinsky, Adam. 2012. Rumors, Truths, and Reality: A Study of Political Misinformation, working paper. Cambridge, MA: MIT.
Berinsky, Adam J., Huber, Geregory A., and Lenz, Gabriel S.. 2012. Using Mechanical Turk as a Subject Recruitment Tool for Experimental Research. Political Analysis 20 (3):351368.
Bilefsky, Dan. 2009. Celebrating Revolution With Roots in a Rumor. New York Times, 17 November.
Buhrmester, Michael, Kwang, Tracy, and Gosling, Samuel D.. 2011. Amazon’s Mechanical Turk: A New Source of Inexpensive, Yet High-Quality, Data? Perspectives on Psychological Science 6 (1):35.
Calvert, Randall L. 1985. The Value of Biased Information: A Rational Choice Model of Political Advice. Journal of Politics 47 (2):530555.
Cao, Yin, and An, Baijie. 2011. Weibo Gives Rumors No Time to Thrive. China Daily, 4 November. Available from http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2011-11/04/content_14035335.htm (accessed 22 March 2013).
Chen, Jie. 2004. Popular Political Support in Urban China. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Chin, Josh, and Mozur, Paul. 2013. China Intensifies Social-Media Crackdown. Wall Street Journal, 19 September.
Chong, Dennis, and Druckman, James N.. 2007a. Framing Public Opinion in Competitive Democracies. American Political Science Review 101 (4):637655.
Chong, Dennis, and Druckman, James N.. 2007b. Framing Theory. Annual Review of Political Science 10:103126.
Chong, Dennis, and Druckman, James N.. 2007c. A Theory of Framing and Opinion Formation in Competitive Elite Environments. Journal of Communication 57 (1):99118.
CNNIC. 2015. The 35th Statistical Report of Internet Development in China (Zhong-guo Hulian Wangluo Fazhan Zhuangkuang Tongji Baogao). Beijing: China Internet Network Information Center.
Cook, John, and Lewandowsky, Stephan. 2011. The Debunking Handbook. St. Lucia, Australia: University of Queensland, Available from http://sks.to/debunk (accessed 22 March 2013).
DiFonzo, Nicholas, and Bordia, Prashant. 2007. Rumor Psychology: Social and Organizational Approaches. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Donovan, Pamela. 2007. How Idle is Idle Talk? One Hundred Years of Rumor Research. Diogenes 54 (1):5982.
Druckman, James N. 2003. On the Limits of Framing Effects: Who Can Frame? Journal of Politics 63 (4):10411066.
Druckman, James N., Peterson, Erik, and Slothuus, Rune. 2013. How Elite Partisan Polarization Affects Public Opinion Formation. American Political Science Review 107 (1):5779.
Druckman, James N., and Bolsen, Toby. 2011. Framing, Motivated Reasoning, and Opinions About Emergent Technologies. Journal of Communication 61 (4):659688.
Ecker, Ullrich K.H., Lewandowsky, Stephan, and Tang, David T.W.. 2010. Explicit Warnings Reduce but Do Not Eliminate the Continued Influence of Misinformation. Memory & Cognition 38 (8):10871100.
The Economist . 2012. Twtr: Which Tongues Work Best for Microblogs? The Economist, 31 March. Available from http://www.economist.com/node/21551466 (accessed 22 March 2013).
Egorov, Georgy, Guriev, Sergei, and Sonin, Konstantin. 2009. Why Resource-Poor Dictators Allow Freer Media: A Theory and Evidence from Panel Data. American Political Science Review 103 (4):6456668.
Epstein, Gady. 2012. Online Whispers: The Anatomy of a Coup Rumour. The Economist, 5 April. Available from http://www.economist.com/blogs/analects/2012/04/online-whispers?fsrc=gn_ep (accessed 22 March 2013).
Fine, Gary A., and Ellis, Bill. 2010. The Global Grapevine: Why Rumors of Terrorism, Immigration, and Trade Matter. New York: Oxford University Press.
Fine, Gary A., and Turner, Patricia A.. 2001. Whispers on the Color Line: Rumor and Race in America. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.
Garrett, R. Kelly. 2011. Troubling Consequences of Online Political Rumoring. Human Communication Research 37 (2):255274.
Goodman, Joseph K., Cryder, Cynthia E., and Cheema, Amar. 2012. Data Collection in a Flat World: Strengths and Weaknesses of Mechanical Turk Samples. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making 26 (3):213224.
Goren, Paul, Federico, Christopher M., and Kittilson, Miki L.. 2009. Source Cues, Partisan Identities, and Political Value Expression. American Journal of Political Science 53 (4):805820.
Huang, Haifeng. Forthcoming. International Knowledge and Domestic Evaluations in a Changing Society: The Case of China. American Political Science Review.
Huang, Haifeng. 2015. Propaganda as Signaling. Comparative Politics 47 (4):419437.
Iyengar, Shanto. 2011. Laboratory Experiments in Political Science. In James N. Druckman, Donald P. Green, James H. Kuklinski and Authur Lupia (eds.) Cambridge Handbook of Experimental Political Science, 7388. Cambridge University Press.
Ji, Chuanpai, and Wang, Hao. 2011. Beijing Party Secretary Visits Sina and Stresses the Strengthening of New Technology Applications. Beijing Daily, 23 August. Available from http://news.sina.com.cn/c/2011-08-23/032523033585.shtml (accessed 22 March 2013).
Johnson, Hohhyn M., and Seifert, Collen M.. 1994. Sources of the Continued Influence Effect: When Misinformation in Memory Affects Later Inferences. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 20 (6):14201436.
Kapferer, Jean-Noel. 1990. Rumors: Uses, Interpretations, and Images. New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers.
Kenez, Peter. 1985. The Birth of the Propaganda State: Soviet Methods of Mass Mobilization, 1917-1929. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
King, Gary, Pan, Jennifer, and Roberts, Margaret E.. 2013. How Censorship in China Allows Government Criticism but Silences Collective Expression. American Political Science Review 107 (2):326343.
King, Gary, Pan, Jennifer, and Roberts, Margaret E.. 2014. Reverse-Engineering Censorship in China: Randomized Experimentation and Participant Observation. Science 345 (6199):110.
Knopf, Terry A. 1975. Rumors, Race, and Riots. New Brunswick: Transaction Books.
Koller, Michael. 1992. Rumor Rebuttal in the Marketplace. Journal of Economic Psychology 13 (1):167186.
Kuklinski, James H., and Hurley, Norman. 1994. On Hearing and Interpreting Political Messages: A Cautionary Tale of Citizen Cue-Taking. Journal of Politics 56 (3):729751.
Larson, Christina. 2011. People’s Republic of Rumors. Foreign Policy, 8 July. Available from http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/07/08/the_peoples_republic_of_rumors (accessed 22 March 2013).
Larson, Christina. 2012. Still the Peoples Republic of Rumors. Foreign Policy, 22 March. Available from http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2012/03/22/still_the_people_s_republic_of_rumors (accessed 22 March 2013).
Levin, Dan. 2014. China Cracks Down on Popular Mobile Messaging Services. New York Times, 7 August.
Li, Lianjiang. 2013. The Magnitude and Resilience of Trust in the Center. Modern China 39 (1):336.
Lorentzen, Peter L. 2014. China’s Strategic Censorship. American Journal of Political Science 58 (2):402414.
Lupia, Arthur. 1994. Shortcuts Versus Encyclopedias: Information and Voting Behavior in California Insurance Reform Elections. American Political Science Review 88 (1):6376.
MacKinnon, Mark. 2012. Why the Coup Rumours in China Aren’t Going Away. The Globe and Mail, 21 March.
Mayo, Ruth, Schul, Yaacov, and Burnstein, Eugene. 2004. I Am Not Guilty Vs. I Am Innocent: Successful Negation May Depend on the Schema Used for Its Encoding. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 40 (4):433449.
Mocanu, Delia, Rossi, Luca, Zhang, Qian, Karsai, Marton, and Quattrociocchi, Walter. 2014. Collective Attention in the Age of (Mis)Information, arXiv:1403.3344 [cs.SI].
Mondak, Jeffrey J. 1993. Source Cues and Policy Approval: The Cognitive Dynamics of Public Support for the Reagan Agenda. American Journal of Political Science 37 (1):186212.
Ng, Jason Q. 2013. Blocked on Weibo: What Gets Suppressed on Chinas Version of Twitter (and Why). New York: The New Press.
Nicholson, Stephen P. 2011. Dominating Cues and the Limits of Elite Influence. Journal of Politics 73 (4):11651177.
Nicholson, Stephen P. 2012. Polarizing Cues. American Journal of Political Science 56 (1):5266.
Nicholson, Stephen P., and Hansford, Thomas G.. 2014. Partisans in Robes: Party Cues and Public Acceptance of Supreme Court Decisions. American Journal of Political Science 58 (3):620636.
Nyhan, Brendan, and Reifler, Jason. 2010. When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions. Political Behavior 32:303330.
Nyhan, Brendan, and Reifler, Jason. 2012. Misinformation and Fact-Checking: Research Findings from Social Science. Washington, DC: New America Foundation, New America Foundation.
Nyhan, Brendan, and Reifler, Jason. forthcoming. The Effect of Fact-Checking on Elites: A Field Experiment on U.S. State Legislators. American Journal of Political Science.
O’Keefe, Daniel J. 2002. Persuasion: Theory and Research. 2 nd edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Oliver, J. Eric, and Wood, Thomas J.. 2014. Conspiracy Theories and the Paranoid Style(s) of Mass Opinion. American Journal of Political Science 58 (4):952966.
Pei, Minxin. 2008. Rumors and Riots. New York Times, 8 July.
People’s Daily Online Media Opinion Monitoring Office. 2012. 2012 Sina Government Weibos Report. Beijing: People’s Daily Online Media Opinion Monitoring Office.
Richburg, Keith B. 2011. In China, Microblogging Sites Become Free-Speech Platform. Washington Post, 27 March.
Ross, Lee, Lepper, Mark R., and Hubbard, Michael. 1975. Perseverance in Self-Perception and Social Perception: Biased Attributional Processes in the Debriefing Paradigm. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 32 (5):880892.
Schwarz, Norbert, Sanna, Lawrence J., Skurnik, Ian, and Yoon, Carolyn. 2007. Metacognitive Experiences and the Intricacies of Setting People Straight: Implications for Debiasing and Public Information Campaigns. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 39:127161.
Shi, Tianjian. 2001. Cultural Values and Political Trust: A Comparison of the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan. Comparative Politics 33 (4):401419.
Shirk, Susan L., ed 2010. Changing Media, Changing China. New York: Oxford University Press.
Sniderman, Paul M., and Theriault, Sean M.. 2004. The Structure of Political Argument and the Logic of Issue Framing. In Studies in Public Opinion: Attitudes, Nonattitudes, Measurement Error, and Change, Chapter 5, edited by Willem E. Saris and Paul M. Sniderman, 133165. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Sprouse, Jon. 2011. A Validation of Amazon Mechanical Turk for the Collection of Acceptability Judgments in Linguistic Theory. Behavior Research Methods 43 (1):155167.
Stockmann, Daniela. 2013. Media Commercialization and Authoritarian Rule in China. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Tong, Yanqi, and Lei, Shaohua. 2013. War of Position and Microblogging in China. Journal of Contemporary China 22 (80):292311.
Uscinski, Joseph E., and Parent, Joseph M.. 2014. American Conspiracy Theories. New York: Oxford University Press.
Wedeen, Lisa. 1999. Ambiguities of Domination: Politics, Rhetoric, and Symbols in Contemporary Syria. Chicago, IL and London: University of Chicago Press.
Weeks, Brian E., and Garrett, R. Kelly. 2014. Electoral Consequences of Political Rumors: Motivated Reasoning, Candidate Rumors, and Vote Choice During the 2008 US Presidential Election. International Journal of Public Opinion Research 26 (4):401422.
Wines, Michael. 2012. Crackdown on Chinese Bloggers Who Fight the Censors with Puns. New York Times, 28 May.
Xinhua News Agency. 2012. A Few Rumor-Spreading Web Sites Punished According to Law (Yipi Chuanbo Yaoyan De Wulian Wangzhan Bei Yifa Chengchu). Available from http://news.xinhuanet.com/politics/2012-03/30/c_122911337.htm (accessed 30 March 2013).
Yang, Fan, Liu, Yang, Yu, Xiaohui, and Yang, Mim. 2012. Automatic Detection of Rumor on Sina Weibo. Proceedings of the ACM SIGKDD Workshop on Mining Data Semantics. Beijing, 12–16 August 2012.
Yang, Guobin. 2013. Contesting Food Safety in the Chinese Media: Between Hegemony and Counter-Hegemony. China Quarterly 214:337355.
Yu, Louis, Asur, Sitaram, and Huberman, Bernardo A.. 2011. What Trends in Chinese Social Media. Proceeding of the 5th ACM Workshop on Social Network Mining and Analysis (SNAKDD2011), 21 August 2011, San Diego, CA.
Zaller, John. 1992. The Nature and Origins of Mass Opinion. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Zhao, Dingxin. 2001. The Power of Tiananmen: State-Society Relations and the 1989 Beijing Student Movement. Chicago, IL and London: University of Chicago Press.
Zhong, Yang. 2014. Do Chinese People Trust Their Local Government, and Why? An Empirical Study of Political Trust in Urban China. Problems of Post-Socialism 61 (3):3144.
Zhu, Jiangnan, Lu, Jie, and Shi, Tianjian. 2013. When Grapevine News Meets Mass Media: Different Information Sources and Popular Perceptions of Government Corruption in Mainland China. Comparative Political Studies 46 (8):920946.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-of-political-science
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
×
Type Description Title
UNKNOWN
Supplementary materials

Hunag Dataset
Dataset

 Unknown
PDF
Supplementary materials

Huang supplementary material
Huang supplementary material 1

 PDF (194 KB)
194 KB

Metrics

Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed