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How Misinformation Spreads on WeChat

This article explores the issue of spreading misinformation on the popular mobile messaging application, WeChat used largely in China and consequently by Chinese immigrants in the US.  Based on the biased headlines broadcasted to this population during the US presidential election, there was an investigation on how WeChat operates through its advertisements. This investigation by Columbia Journalism students revealed that advertising power, as well as search results on WeChat, are controlled and monetized largely in part by Chinese authorities.  The sources of this misinformation are usually Official Accounts (OA)which source news but aren’t available on the open web.  Since OAs generate content and the barrier to entry is relatively low, they can skew news very easily.  They function on a profile basis and can repackage already distributed news items at their discretion.  Through this bias and the circulation methods utilized by WeChat, certain OAs generate views through page attractions, this enables misinformation to be circulated easily through these means. The private nature of the network enables misinformation to carry more weight because it lacks a diversity of through endless resources available in the non-private network.  The article dissects the issues of private and semi-private networks and how they influence the circulation of information.


Specifically related to class, the article cites information cascades as a major reason for the spread of this misinformation.  In an information cascade, people draw references from rational influences in order to inform their decisions.  Sometimes, this is in the form of observing prior decision patterns.  Usually, any imitation is not mindless imitation.  Based on this, the article the details that the start of information cascades stimulated through networks of friends and acquaintances hold a greater influence over this misinformation as opposed to the public web.  This allows the concept related to following the crowd to be applied to this information cascade scenario.  Connections through this network allow other users to highly influence individuals in their network. This is because WeChat is engineered to base their results on an individual user, not an algorithm.  WeChat currently has in place measures to combat misinformation to both filter fake news, however, this filter also can be utilized to skew politically unfavorable content.  It has been hard to dissect the content related to this issue because of WeChat’s privately centered platform.  The lack of transparency particularly with the only information revealed on a per-user basis to OAs and limited insights about network structure as well as information flow.  This has given way to utilizing traditional methods of investigation like surveys to gather more information on the WeChat ecosystem that does exist.


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