Effective use of social media is a key to political activism in the early 21st century. This is particularly true for Hong Kong’s Occupy Central with Love and Peace Campaign, a civil disobedience movement that sets out to occupy the city’s financial district and demands universal suffrage in elections for the chief executive and legislators.
The mass rallies in preparation for the Occupy Central movement represent a new form of activism in Hong Kong in this networked age.
First, social media have awakened a whole generation of young Hong Kongers. Being the first generation in history to grow up in this age of global information technologies, the educated youth live in a boundless virtual world that is at odds with the realities of the futureless society they see around them.
As with many progressive forces elsewhere such as the Arab Spring and the Sunflower movement in Taiwan, young Hong Kongers have expressed their grievances online and used electronic media to organize protests against the “status quo.” They mobilize themselves through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube on a scale that would not have been possible a decade ago.
Second, social media have vastly expanded the flow of ideas and opened up access to many levels of support.
In this brave new world, the Internet offers conscientious citizens endless opportunities for interactions and for increased access to multiple sources of information outside the pro-government media. This becomes a bad omen for the Chinese Communist Party and its handpicked agents in Hong Kong because social media allow local citizens to bypass censorship and decipher the lies given to them through official propaganda.
Since Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) cannot control people’s access to information and their ability to connect online, many courageous citizens are ready to step in and make legitimate demands of their government. They seek to exercise their democratic rights and participate in the government’s decision-making process.
Apart from the desire for freedom and democracy, the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong are ignited by many explosive factors, like rampant corruption, social and economic injustices, high inflation and an incompetent government void of democratic legitimacy.
The tech-savvy youths form the backbone of nonviolent struggle from the beginning, and their enthusiastic embrace of social media has mobilized many people to take part.
As a result, most demonstrators come from all strata of society that are badly affected by these deteriorating conditions and bonded together by a common desire for fairness and justice.
Joseph Tse-hei Lee is professor of history and codirector of the Global Asia studies program at Pace University in New York.