Background and Context of the Study

Social media has been a popular platform for promoting ideas, opinion, policies, and in getting incidental news. While there have been studies examining problems as a result of social media use, not much have been studied on people’s reaction to problematic content in social media. The content can be true, exaggerated, fabricated, or fake. Its presence in social media is a cause of concern that is increasingly being discussed in society. Spread of provocative news induces social disharmony and divides the already divided society, and puts democracy at risk.  

Exposure to provocative news has become a part of people’s daily news diet. Despite various concerns, understanding how people experience and react to provocative news is poor. Studies on how Malaysians experience emotion-elicit provocative news on social media is nonexistent. Within Malaysia’s socio-cultural context, not much is known on how Malaysians experience provocative news in the social media. There is also a lack of understanding concerning the predictors and moderators that explain how people react to provocative news. 

News posted or reposted by social media users can be decoded in several ways such as hegemonic (accepting the message as it was encoded), negotiated (accepting aspects of the message, but not all of it) or oppositional (declining the way the message was encoded). In encountering true or fake provocative news in social network platforms, people have the option whether to share, ignore, or comment on it. News that elicits an emotional response is more likely to be consumed, processed and shared. Sharing provocative news specifically touching on issues such as religion and cultural identity is perhaps a bad practice; ignoring it is not good either. Questioning or refuting sensitive provocative news by proper commenting could help in slowing, minimizing or preventing such news from spreading.Given the emerging issue of quality of information ecosystem, it is important to understand the factors that influence people’s experience and reaction to emotion-elicit provocative news particularly those that touches on religion, cultural sensitivity, and national interest from a theoretical and practical standpoint.

In Malaysia, people are reliant on friends and family members to guide them through the information ecosystem. This explains the surge in social communication technologies such as Facebook and WhatsApp usage among its population. This social media platform provides Malaysians with the opportunity to participate in the process of socialization and democratization where social, political, and economic issues are discussed. Reuters Institute Digital News Report[1]for 2018 reported that in Malaysia, social media is the main source of news, followed by TV and print. Facebook is the top social media for getting news and WhatsApp is ranked second.It is interesting to note that Malaysia is reported to be the global leader in terms of WhatsApp usage particularly for news consumption.

In the context of reaction to news, a host of factors account for individual differences in information behavior. This study focuses on selected factors (individual and social) that account for the differences in reaction to provocative news that touches on sensitive issues relating to culture, religion, and government performance. 

Malaysia’s socio-cultural context is unique. Being a multi-cultural and multi region society, there are certainly many factors that contribute to the shaping of Malaysian’s reaction to provocative news on religion, culture sensitivity, and government performance. Since there are not many researches that tests various factors that account for Malaysian’s reaction to provocative news, we do so here in order to understand their reaction to emotion-elicit provocative news.Factors that are integrated into this study include, the need for cognition (the tendency to engage in and enjoy cognitive efforts), perception of subjective norm on reacting to problematic content in social media, attitudes toward news sharing/discussing, personal motivational values (self-transcendence, self-enhancement, openness to change, and conservation), news salience, news literacy, and age. 

[1]Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2018.

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