A Comparative Study of Social Media Users’ Perception: Post-MH370 Incident in China and Malaysia
When Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 went missing, the flow of information experienced complexity uncertainty, and ambiguity in terms of information adequacy. The MH370 incident demonstrated an unprecedented international humanitarian response from the technology sector. This study discovered that most respondents from Mainland China and Malaysia access information about Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 during and after the tragic incident through social media. Social media currently changes people’s perception with time.
It is believed that “social media empowers people in digital production practices” (Mansell & Ang, 2015, p. 1015) . However, social media sites have introduced new issues regarding the accuracy, originality and reproducibility of digital content that are particularly difficult to address, and they have blurred the lines from producer of information to audiences to a far greater extent than was the case for previous media forms. Simon Kemp’s 2016 Digital Yearbook particularly looked at the following four major populations–Internet users, active social media users, unique mobile users, and active mobile social users (Kemp, 2016)–which represent significant indicators to measure different behavior preferences of online users at present. His research revealed that 1,379 million digital online users in China, which indicated China’s level of urbanization had reached 57%, and 95% of them own mobile connection. Among them there are 653 million active social media users. In Malaysia, there are 18 million active social media users, which take up 59% of online user population.
This study revealed significant difference of user perception of active social media in these two countries. One one hand, social networking sites such as Facebook (in Malaysia), Weibo (in China) and Wechat (in China), become the public opinion field that illustrates sorts of openness and negotiation in Malaysia and China. On the other hand, social media is currently and also in the future the significant platform where corporates manage controversial area of the post-crisis reform.
According to the survey conducted in China and Malaysia respectively, there remain some differences between the individual’s self-defined category of online users and actual behavior. The survey had been discovered that 54.5% of respondents from China saw themselves as active Internet users, and only 15% of them believed they were active social media users. Nevertheless, the survey had identified that yet there was a contradiction between frequencies of social media usage and self-defining since 89% of all respondents used social media more than three times a day. The survey conducted in Malaysia also revealed that only 25% of Malaysian respondents considered themselves as active social media users, and 13.5% of respondents categorized themselves into groups of mobile social media users, however, actually 85.5% of them belonged to the active interval according to their frequencies of social media usage. Most of the time, individuals unconsciously access the content and they do not really calculate the frequency as social media apps empowers end users with instant access to resources and content through a single click.
This research intended to compare arenas of information exchange where dynamic and interactive flows of social-media data are in the hands of empowered individuals in Malaysia and China, who seek a more evidence-based participatory form of crisis communication. The survey had discovered that social media in China is not the most used media for users to access information about MH370 incident. Online news portal is the most popular form. However, Malaysian respondents prefer using social media to online news portal and television while they seek updates of the MH370 incident.
The popular social networking sites in Malaysia and China are very different from each other. However, one social media site attracts most of users in Malaysia and China respectively. According to Wang et al (2017), Chinese participants showed higher level of social media engagement (2017, p. 3096)  than Malaysian participants.
The survey also discovered different level of social media engagement in these two countries. During the MH370 incident Malaysia has highest level of engaged social media users, but after the incident Malaysia has biggest number of users do not care what the incident goes on. 17.5% of Malaysian respondents never engaged on social media for any updates after the incident. The authors also noticed that 39% of Chinese respondents follow the relevant content less than 1 time after the incident.
Very less proportion of Chinese respondents flew with Malaysia Airlines, and only 15% of them did fly Malaysia Airlines flights before. Interestingly, after the incident, more respondents showed their interest to choose Malaysia Airlines services. Among them, there are 31.25% male respondents, and 38.46% female respondents. The same goes to Malaysian respondents. There are 71.29% male respondents and 61.62% female respondents are willing to fly with Malaysia Airlines flights after the incident, although 54.6% male and 47.47% female respondents take flights operated by Malaysia Airlines. This paper will not discuss the reason behind, but these figures provide crisis managers a good reference to plan their strategies of crisis communication after the incident/disaster.
Above all, this research, instead of conventional crisis communication approach, specifically examined active online users in both countries, as it aims to make a valuable contribution by synthesizing current research and identifying areas for investigation for each aspect of the survey process. Two hundred questionnaires had been collected from respondents in China and Malaysia respectively. The survey results contributed to mechanism of crisis communication for henceforth similar incident in the future. There is no doubt that the portrait of Malaysia Airlines on social media in these two countries affected its organizational reputation. However, the participants from Malaysia and China showed a very average level of confidence to empower themselves to enhance dialog capacity among various stakeholders for this incident.
 Mansell, R., and Ang, P. H. (2015). The International Encyclopedia of Digital Communication and Society. Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell.
 Kemp, S. (2016). 2016 Digital Yearbook: We are Social’s Compendium of Global Digital, Social, and Mobile Data, Trends, and Statistics [PowerPoint Slides]. Retrieved from: http://www.slideshare.net/wearesocialsg/digital-in-2016
 Wang, C., Chen, Y. and Jamilah, H. Jamilah, H. J. (2017). A Comparative study on viewers’ perceptions of portrait of the MH370 incident by social media in Malaysia and China. Advanced Science Letters. 23, 3092-3096.
WANG Changsong, JAMILAH Hj Ahmad
Xiamen University Malaysia, Universiti Sains Malaysia
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