Article: Biased” Systematic and Heuristic Processing of Politicians’ Messages: Effects of Source Favorability and Political Interest on Attitude Judgment

“Biased” Systematic and Heuristic Processing of Politicians’ Messages: Effects of Source Favorability and Political Interest on Attitude Judgment.

“Biased” Systematic and Heuristic Processing of Politicians’ Messages: Effects of Source Favorability and Political Interest on Attitude Judgment


Sungkyunkwan University, Republic of Korea


Universiti Putra Malaysia, Malaysia


This study investigated two information-processing modes for political messages from favored politicians: “biased” systematic processing and heuristic processing. In an experiment, college students (N = 183) with different levels of political interest received messages about unfamiliar political issues from either a favored or a less favored candidate in the 2008 U.S. presidential election. For those with low levels of political interest, source favorability had a direct effect on attitudes, indicating heuristic processing. For those with high political interest, source favorability had an indirect effect on attitudes through message-relevant thoughts, indicating biased systematic processing. The theoretical and practical implications of the findings are discussed.

Keywords: politicians’ messages, source favorability, bias hypothesis, political interest, heuristic processing

In an ideal deliberative democracy, interested, informed, and communicative citizens join with others to form opinions on public affairs (Fishkin, 2011; Fishkin & Luskin, 2005; Habermas, 1989; Katz, 1995). Fishkin (2011) characterized deliberative democracy as decision making by lay citizens who sincerely weigh all arguments based on evidence, not on who is advocating a particular view. However, theories of persuasion state and empirical studies have confirmed that citizens’ judgments are not free from the effects of sources but are often formed based on who delivers the political messages (Mondak, 1993a, 1993b; Popkin, 1991; Pornpitakpan, 2004; Ziegler & Diehl, 2003).

Previous studies on the effect of sources on political judgments suggest that citizens who are less sophisticated and less interested in politics tend to be affected by characteristics of the advocators

1 This research was supported by the Samsung Research Fund, Sungkyunkwan University, 2010. Correspondence regarding this article should be addressed to Sungeun Chung, the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, Sungkyunkwan University, Seoul, Republic of Korea, 110-745.

Copyright © 2016 (Sungeun Chung & Moniza Waheed). Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives (by-nc-nd). Available at

(heuristic processing; Fogarty & Wolak, 2009; Lupia, 1994; Lupia & McCubbins, 1988; Mondak, 1993a, 1993b; Popkin, 1991). However, studies on motivated political reasoning have found that politically sophisticated citizens are also prone to biased information processing, such as seeking confirmatory evidence and critically evaluating contrary arguments (Bohner, Ruder, & Erb, 2002, Chaiken, Liberman, & Eagly, 1989; Chaiken & Maheswaran, 1994; Chen & Chaiken, 1999; Erb, Bohner, Schmälzel, & Rank, 1998). Even though biased processing may occur for highly sophisticated people, how citizens with high levels of interest in politics use the source information when processing politicians’ messages is relatively unknown. The present study investigated how citizens with different levels of interest in political process political messages and how citizens’ decisions are affected by their favorability toward politicians.

The heuristic systematic model (HSM; Chaiken et al., 1989; Chaiken & Maheswaran, 1994) suggests two specific processes for the effects of source cues on political judgments for different levels of cognitive motivation: “biased” systematic processing for citizens with high political interest and heuristic processing for citizens with low levels of interest (Bohner et al., 2002; Chaiken et al., 1989; Chaiken & Maheswaran, 1994; Chen & Chaiken, 1999; Erb et al., 1998). Using the HSM framework, we investigated causal mechanisms for the effects of source favorability on attitudes for different levels of political interest and the mediating role of cognitive responses in the causal relationships.

Systematic, Heuristic, and Biased Systematic Processing of Politicians’ Messages

How do citizens process politicians’ messages to make political decisions on certain issues? Theories of motivated reasoning maintain that not only accuracy goals but also directional goals (e.g., belief perseverance goals, partisan goals) drive all human reasoning.

Previous studies of the effects of politicians’ messages on judgment have focused on the use of the source expertise cues (i.e., “Experts are right”) in heuristic processing and found an effect of message source on judgments for less motivated individuals (Fogarty & Wolak, 2009; Lupia, 1994; Lupia & McCubbins, 1988; Mondak, 1993a, 1993b; Popkin, 1991). In addition to the expertise of the source, favorability toward the source also may function as a heuristic cue (Brady & Sniderman, 1985). Because citizens often are asked to evaluate politicians who are nationally known, favorability toward politicians is highly accessible (Brady & Sniderman, 1985).

Brady and Sniderman (1985) found that citizens use favorability toward a politician to infer the politicians’ issue stances. They called this type of judgment the “likability heuristic,” and there are a number of psychological mechanisms for this heuristic. First, when citizens favor a politician, they also may believe the politician to be highly credible and conclude that their favored politicians’ stances on issues are right (Ziegler & Diehl, 2003). Second, citizens often favor a politician based on agreement regarding issues of importance (Campbell, Converse, Miller, & Stokes, 1960; Cook, Jelen, & Wilcox 1994; Ottati, 1990); that is, when citizens believe that a politician is right on what they consider to be key political issues, they may think that the politician is also right about other issues. Another mechanism is Heider’s (1958) balance theory and its applications to political attitudes (Brent & Granberg, 1982; Kinder, 1978; Ottati, Fishbein, & Middlestadt, 1988). According to this theory, voters tend to adopt their favored politician’s position on an issue to balance their cognitive systems.

Previous studies suggest that the effect of source cues on attitudes diminishes when message recipients are highly motivated (Lupia, 1994; Mondak, 1993a, 1993b). However, HSM states that when cognitive motivation is high, both systematic and heuristic processing may occur simultaneously (Bohner, Moskowitz, & Chaiken, 1995; Chaiken & Maheswaran, 1994; Ziegler & Diehl, 2003). According to HSM, in some cases, heuristic processing produces expectations of the probable veracity of message claims and biases systematic processing for message recipients who are highly motivated (the bias hypothesis, or biased systematic processing; Bohner et al., 2002; Chaiken & Maheswaran, 1994; Erb et al., 1998; Ziegler

Continue reading “Article: Biased” Systematic and Heuristic Processing of Politicians’ Messages: Effects of Source Favorability and Political Interest on Attitude Judgment”

Article: Online News and Public Opinion:How Malaysians Respond to News on a State By-Election

Online News and Public Opinion:  How Malaysians Respond to News on a State By-Election

Shafizan Mohamed*, Syed Arabi Idid, and Kamaruzzaman Manan

Department of Communication, Kulliyyah of Islamic Revealed Knowledge and Human Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia, 53100, Gombak, Selangor.

 Source: Human Communication Journal

Online News and Public Opinion:  How Malaysians Respond to News on a State By-Election


 This study articulates the agenda-setting function of online news that are shared on Facebook. Many news organizations today have their own Facebook pages in which they publish news stories or links to articles. Having facebook pages allow the newspapers to reach a wider readership as well as promote reader participation through the comments section in Facebook posts. When audience members read and subsequently comment on news articles on Facebook, it becomes possible to identify the effectiveness of a newspaper’s agenda setting function by scrutinising how the readers respond to the issues covered in the newspaper. Content analysis was done on over 450 news articles from four major online newspapers during the Semenyih by-election in Malaysia. The study found that while the online newspapers and the readers do share some issue salience, the relationship is not as simple and direct. The dynamics of Facebook now enable news readers to become more than just receiver of news. Instead, they disrupt the conventional agenda-setting function by becoming commenters who influence how other readers receive and contemplate news and issues.

KEYWORDS: By-election, Facebook, Malaysia, Public opinion, Agenda setting, Online Newspapers


 The availability of Social Networking Sites (SNS) such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter has enabled traditional newspapers to engage with the online audiences by encouraging them to read, comment, and share news with other users. Today, large numbers of news organizations extend their content and interactions on SNS to get connected to the larger audience. Facebook is generally the primary platform used by news organizations to share their news stories and to encourage user interaction  (Al-Rawi, 2016).

This shift towards encouraging news comments on Facebook is based on the implicit assumption that commenting on social media platforms, especially Facebook, is a better alternative than commenting on online news sites (Kim, 2018). Most news sites have suffered from offensive, insulting, and brutal comments on their websites because of the anonymous character of their comment sections (Coe, Kenski, & Rains, 2014). Facebook, on the other hand, is more open in the sense that users can search about one another through a system of notifying users of others’ likes and comments, forcing commenters to be accountable to their posts (Rowe, 2015). While the ability to create fake accounts still allows for irresponsible commenting, the amount of legit comments often drowns the impact of fake users. Most of the time, fake users are easily identified and apprehended by other users.

Due to the popularity of leaving and reading comments online, these spaces for public discourse have attracted the interest of media and communication researchers. Scholars have examined news comment to understand the impact of interactivity and other content features (Weber, 2014), the quality of news comments (Rowe, 2015), motivations for commenting (Stroud, Van Duyn & Peacock, 2016), personal characteristics of news commenters (Wu & Atkin, 2017), and the influence of news comments on users’ evaluation of news articles and social issues (Prochazka, Weber, & Schweiger, 2016) and their future commenting behaviors (Rösner & Krämer, 2016).

Following the interest in this growing body of study, this study attempts to problematize the relationship between news and news comments by contemplating on whether the sentiments shared by newsreaders in the comment sections reflect the sentiments presented in the news content? And, can these comments be constituted as a form of public opinion?  Ksiazek (2018) proposed that news comments could indicate user engagement with the news, as well as offer insight into how users are participating in virtual discussions of current events.

The emergence of interactive digital platforms for the provision of news has sparked an interest in capturing the ways that users are engaging, experiencing, and reacting to content. When users choose to comment on a news story, they signal a heightened interest by not only processing and reacting to the news, but by choosing to share their thoughts in a public forum. Therefore, news comments offer the possibility to learn about the effectiveness of news stories in influencing user opinions.


Facebook Usage in Malaysia

The media and political cultures in Malaysia have been very much altered by the rapid rise of the online media (Wok & Mohamed, 201). The democratic openness afforded by the social media has especially allowed Malaysians to challenge the country’s conservative political culture by daringly participating in online discourses where there is limited government control. This change in political culture was exemplified in 2018 when Malaysians overthrew a 61 years old government that had strong control over the country’s media and political systems. The social media, afforded Malaysians the avenue to get alternative news and to participate in local politics. Facebook is where most of the political discourses take place (Salman, Yusoff, Salleh & Abdullah, 2018) (Lee, 2017)

There are over 16 million active Facebook users in Malaysia (MCMC, 2017). The popularity of social networking sites (SNSs) such as Facebook was made possible by the improved Internet infrastructure, increase in Internet penetration and overall better exploitation of Information Technologies in terms of mobile phones, computers and Internet access (Wok and Mohamed, 2017). Recently, the Internet usage amongst individuals in Malaysia increased from 57 percent in 2013 to 71.1 percent in 2015, although the digital divide between rural and urban areas remains significant, there is a continuous effort by the government to reduce the gap (Lee, 2017).

According to the Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission (MCMC, 2017), Malaysians access the Internet very frequently (86.6% at least once a day) and are very participative in social networking sites (84.3%). Facebook is the most popular social media platform in Malaysia. MCMC (2017) found that 96.5 percent of the Internet users surveyed owned at least a Facebook account and 53.8 percent of the Internet users accessed Facebook on a daily basis. The study also found that some 18.3% percent of social media users share political views. While the percentage of social media users sharing political views may not be that high, it is still a significant source of information for those who access it (90.1%). 86.9% of those who surveyed identified that social media is one of the main online information portals for them. A study on political engagement among Malaysian voters by Salman et al. (2018) supports the centrality of SNS in Malaysian political discourse. The study found that 63.5% of voters identifies SNS as their main source for political information with 86.5% claiming Facebook as their main SNS platform.

All the major online newspapers in Malaysia have a Facebook page and are actively using it to engage with the readers. They do so mainly because of the decline in the sales of printed newspapers. Advertisers are more interested to advertise on the newspapers’ social media platforms where they can attract bigger number of audiences. At the same time, it is legally and politically more conducive for them to engage with the readers online where the government has limited control. The mainstream online newspapers that have direct link to the old government do not have a comment section in their online news portal. This is to avoid negative and controversial user discussions. However, when extending their news stories on Facebook and allowing for user comments, these online newspapers are able to technically defy the imposed self-censorship and allow readers to interact. Because of this, the Facebook pages of Malaysian online newspapers are definitely more alive and popular when compared to their online sites.

Continue reading “Article: Online News and Public Opinion:How Malaysians Respond to News on a State By-Election”

Article: Words of ‘keyboard warriors’: Comparing the use of harsh language in two Facebook pages

Words of ‘keyboard warriors’: Comparing the use of harsh language in two Facebook pages

 H. Hanani Mohd Kadri, Siti Zobidah Omar, Rusli Abdullah, Nor Azura Adzharuddin

Universiti Putra Malaysia

Source: Human Communication Journal.


The use of harsh language during interaction is rife on local Facebook pages. Its use can mostly be seen on viral content posted by two top tabloid media Facebook pages with the most followers in Malaysia. While studies focusing on online incivility and flaming on the internet are increasing, literature on harsh language use on Facebook among Malaysians is scant. Due to that, little is known about the use of harsh language in viral content interactions on Facebook particularly in the commentary section among Malaysians. This study compares the differences between the use of harsh language in users’ comments in two tabloid media Facebook pages in Malaysia. 5,025 comments were collected from 4 viral posts on these two Facebook pages and analyzed for the use of harsh languages. The findings identified a 25.04% difference in the frequency of comments containing harsh language use between both Facebook pages. Contents that depicted violence were also found to have higher usage of harsh language in the users’ comments.                         

Keywords: Content Analysis, Facebook, Harsh Language, Incivility, Viral Content


Facebook and several other social networking sites (SNS) have rapidly grown over the last decade. With the rapid expansion of SNS, internet users have found new ways to generate and disseminate information (Su, et al., 2018). However, despite its popularity, the pervasive use of harsh language online is becoming prevalent. It was demonstrated that at least one in every five comments made online was found to be uncivilized (Coe, Kenski, & Rains, 2014). This has caused a rising concern over the use of harsh language in the commentary section particularly on Facebook as online commenting is now predominantly focused on the platform (Su, et al., 2018).

Some scholars agree that the rising frequency of harsh language use on SNS was due to its contagious nature (Coe et al., 2014; Kwon & Cho, 2015). Others criticize the lack of regulation for contributing to the extensive use of harsh language on SNS (Anderson, Brossard, Scheufele, Xenos, & Ladwig, 2013). One study demonstrated that service providers have indeed set up some regulations for the users – but only to some extent (Kwon & Cho, 2015).  Despite these regulations, however, the use of harsh language is still rampant (Oz, Zheng, & Chen, 2017).

The Malaysian Communications Multimedia Commission (MCMC), the agency responsible for regulating abusive comments and online harassment reported a total of 1,776 complaints regarding the misuse of SNS in 2015. 1,040 of the complaints received were categorized as offensive/menacing and obscene/indecent (MCMC, 2015). In the year of 2016 however, the number increased up to 69.6% with a total of 3,323 complaints received regarding the misuse of SNS. Complaints categorized as offensive/menacing and obscene/indecent also increased to a total of 1,121 complaints.

With the use of harsh language in online discourse becoming increasingly prevalent, it is not surprising that the number of complaints received by MCMC is high. Admittedly, literature on the issue of harsh language use in online comments is growing. However, past research has mostly focused on the linguistics and the use of harsh language during face-to-face conversation (Baudin & Paramasivam, 2014; David, Kuang, & Tayyebian, 2016; Tian, 2014). Meanwhile, others focused more on incivility in online news sites and on political discussions (Anderson et al., 2013; Chen & Ng, 2016; Cho & Kwon, 2015; Coe, Kenski, & Rains, 2014; Kwon & Cho, 2015).

This paper examined the interaction of users in the comments of viral content posts on two top tabloid media Facebook pages from Malaysia which were labelled as PM and SK. Its focus was specific to the use of harsh language used in the comments of PM and SK. Therefore, this paper investigated whether the PM Facebook page or SK Facebook page has a higher number in the use of harsh language use in the comments of viral content posts.

Harsh Language use on Facebook

The advent of social networking sites (SNS) has given the public new means to interact and socialize with each other. With the adoption of platforms such as Facebook, users now have the freedom of choosing how they want to communicate with others. Ever since Facebook went global in September 2006, its number of users has grown rapidly. With more than 2 billion users per month, Facebook now is the most popular SNS worldwide (Statista, 2018).

Statista (2018), a database company based in Hamburg, Germany recorded that almost 12 million Facebook users originated from Malaysia in 2017. The MCMC (2016) in their Internet Users Survey 2016 also reported that Facebook, as a social networking site, has the highest number of account ownership among Malaysians. It was also found that about nine (9) out of ten (10) Malaysians owned a Facebook account and more than half of them access their Facebook account daily (MCMC, 2016).

Facebook generates a huge amount of information through users’ interactions every day (Weng, et al., 2013). It also gives the users the freedom of choosing which information they want to retrieve and what information to share with others (Lievrouw & Livingstone, 2006). This shared information is often able to attract a large amount of attention from the users especially if it went viral (Bandari, Asur, & Huberman, 2012). However, recently there has been an increase in making provocative comments online. These comments can often be found in viral content. Because of its provocative and offensive nature, they tend to trigger a negative emotional response from other users such as anger and frustration (Kwon & Cho, 2015), exacerbating the situation further.

Researchers discovered that the use of offensive comments online could potentially be “contagious” and influence other people to react in a similar way (Kwon & Cho, 2015, p. 2). When emotionally triggered, users have the potential to react aggressively and retaliate using offensive words online (Kwon & Cho, 2015). This process is what scholars call emotional contagion; a process where people are influenced by other people’s emotions or behavior (Barsade, 2002; Schoenewolf, 1990). Emotional contagion usually happens when users’ expressions of opinions trigger other people’s emotions (Kwon & Cho, 2015).

Kramer (2012) found that when users post on Facebook, they can affect their network of Facebook friends. He explained that users may influence their network of friends on Facebook to use the same words to express their opinions. Particularly when users use emotionally expressive language (Kramer, 2012). This is further proven by Stieglitz and Dang-Xuan (2012) who found that emotionally stimulating contents tend to become more viral than others. Continue reading “Article: Words of ‘keyboard warriors’: Comparing the use of harsh language in two Facebook pages”