Diffusion patterns in disaster-induced internet public opinion: based on a Sina Weibo online discussion about the ‘Liangshan fire’ in China

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On April 30, 2019, a forest fire broke out in Liangshan Prefecture that resulted in the deaths of 27 firefighters and four local officials, which sparked a heated debate on the Weibo social media site. Therefore, this case was chosen to examine the evolution of disaster-induced public internet opinion in China to reduce the possibility of ‘secondary harm’ to victims and the risk of panic, and to promote administrative transparency. Life cycle theory, social network analysis, and crawler technology were applied to examine the public online discussion, from which it was found that: female contributors were more likely to share information and feelings on social media than males; people in coastal areas contributed more to the conversations than people from the central and western regions; opinion leaders with significant influence played guiding roles in the discussion; and influential users in various fields, and especially internet celebrities and fan leaders, affected the speed of the information dissemination. From the results, some practical recommendations were developed: social media could be used to retrieve valuable information to help determine disaster damage and plan disaster relief, and government agencies need to strengthen their interactions with the general population, rather than only providing one-way communication.

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Environmental Hazards

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