The Issue Arena of a Corporate Social Responsibility Crisis – The Volkswagen Case in Twitter

Boyang Zhang, Vos Marita, Jari Veijalainen, Shuaiqiang Wang, Denis Kotkov


This paper explores the online debate in a corporate social responsibility crisis, where multiple actors communicate through social media, each representing different interests and views pertaining to the crisis. The study utilizes Twitter data relating to the recent case of the falsified Volkswagen diesel emissions that became public in 2015. To better understand the online interaction, use is made of issue arena theory and insights on CSR crises. The focus is on capturing the issue as it evolved over time, the actors and sentiments expressed, and the responses of the organization. The findings show that after the case became public, the emissions issue received massive attention in Twitter. Sentiment analysis showed high negative peaks following news that revealed details about the case. Among the most active external accounts, the group labeled General and business news was the most critical. The replies posted by Volkswagen on @VW were few, providing explanations and links. Volkswagen websites were used to disseminate information, but the case was also heavily discussed in a large number of independent discussion platforms, blogs and wikis. The findings demonstrate that CSR challenges can result in a crisis of a long duration marked by strongly expressed sentiments and a wide diversity in the views of different stakeholder groups. The focal organization reacted to the events with the twin strategies of apology and compensation. The study shows the risk of CSR challenges resulting in crises in cases where stakeholder expectations have been created but not met, generating loss of reputation.

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Studies in Media and Communication      ISSN 2325-8071 (Print)   ISSN 2325-808X (Online)

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