gCON 2019

Remembering Crisis on Social Media: Collective Memories of Four Chinese Crises on Weibo
2019-08-23, 11:15–11:30, Central Library Theatrette 1

Social media has become a public space not only for information seeking in times of crisis but also for collective remembrance and commemoration in the long-term aftermath of crisis. Current researches mainly focus on social media’s use during and immediately after crisis, but ignore its longer-term influences. As Birch (1994) argues, things will return to normal, but stories won’t be over yet. Stories of major crisis are being rewrote and recalled on social media, which gradually remain in our collective memories. Following Halbwachs (1992) and Olick and Levy (1997), we intend collective memory of major crisis as an ongoing process of sensemaking and negotiation between past crisis and present issues through collaborations of social members. This study examines collective memories of four Chinese major crises: the 2008 Wenchuan earthquake, the 2015 Tianjin explosion, the 2008 milk scandal, and the 2008 Tibetan unrest, representing four major crisis types in China (Wang et al. 2016). By conducting a content analysis of posts on Weibo, one of the most popular social media in China, this study aims to answer following questions: what are major themes in these crisis memory narratives? Are there narrative differences among different groups (i.e. journalists, institutions, the public) or different crisis types? Are there narrative changes over time? If so, what and who cause these changes? Bringing the concept of collective memory into the crisis communication on social media, this study evaluates social influences of major crisis in a longer-term framework.