In recent years, the widespread use of social media has increasingly impacted planning practice and policy making. Although a growing body of literature examines the impact of social media on urban governance and planning, there is a lack of theoretical understanding on the extent to which social media can support collaborative planning. This study identifies a typology of support functions of social media: information sharing refers to one-way information flows from government to citizens or from individuals and organizations to a wide audience in real time; social networking is about the networking of individuals and organizations, perhaps crossing geographical boundaries for collective actions; citizen participation is related to different levels of citizen power that may be enhanced by social media; and communication is diverse, characterized by multimodal, interactive and mass self-communication in various online public spheres. These support functions can be employed to assist different phases and scales of collaborative planning. Nevertheless, there are several potential challenges of using social media in urban planning, including population bias, privacy concerns, information credibility, (self-)censorship, and opinion polarization. The integration of social media, digital tools and traditional participation methods can help to support more inclusive planning processes.
The widespread use of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, WeChat, Weibo and other social media platforms has enabled groups and individuals to connect and share information relating to common interests and concerns (Alizadeh et al., 2019). Social media have generated a large number of volunteered data and new relations, e.g. the posting and forwarding of instant messages, the uploading of photos, and the connection between users. They have promoted real-time information dissemination and opened new channels of communication, participation and networking. In the past decade, there has been a growing scholarly interest in the impact of social media on urban governance and planning. First, many studies examine the role of social media in participation in different countries. In a top-down approach, social media are widely used by governments as a smart tool to gain public opinions, distribute and share information, and support citizen participation in Western countries, China and other contexts (Alizadeh et al., 2019; Kleinhans et al., 2015; Kowalik, 2021; Lin, 2018; Lin & Kant, 2021).
5. Discussion and conclusion
This study identifies four types of support functions of social media for collaborative planning, including information sharing, social networking, citizen participation, and communication. These support functions have the potential to assist different phases of collaborative processes. Innes and Booher (2018) explain several stages of a collaborative process, including assessment/planning, organization, education, negotiation/resolution, and implementation. First, the assessment and planning stage is to identify the planning problems and all affected stakeholders. Second, the organizational stage is to establish the process of communication and accountability by representative stakeholders to their respective constituencies.