Eighteen months ago, Liu Tzu-feng (劉子鳳) had her first taste of activism. She had received a message on Facebook about the Occupy Taipei demonstration and later joined hundreds of protesters chanting anti-capitalist slogans outside Taipei 101. In July of last year, Liu began to take part in the ongoing, nation-wide campaign staged by college students against media monopolization after reading an article by Chen Wei-ting (陳為廷), one of the campaign’s leading figures, which was posted on Facebook by a friend.
“At first, I was like ‘who is he?’ Then I read about their plan to organize the July 31 protest and decided to join,” says Liu, a graduate student at National Yang Ming University. “I added Internet service to my cellphone so as to take pictures during the protests and upload the images onto Facebook immediately. The point was to let people know what was happening here and now.”
To many young protesters like Liu, social networking plays a crucial role in the new wave of student movements, which were ignited by the Want Want China Times Group’s (旺旺中時集團) controversial acquisition of cable TV services owned by China Network Systems (CNS, 中嘉網路). Student protests have also been fueled by the planned takeover of Next Media Group’s four Taiwanese outlets by a consortium including Want Want chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明) and Formosa Plastics Group (台塑集團) chairman William Wong (王文淵). Student activists and critics have raised concerns about a media monopoly and, in light of Tsai’s and Wong’s substantial investments and business ties across the Taiwan Strait, China’s influence over Taiwan’s media.
Social media activism
Having closely observed the student-led movement against media monopolization since last July, Ketty Chen (陳婉宜), a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences at National Taiwan University (NTU), says that participants rely on social media and social networking sites, primarily Facebook, to communicate, spread the word and mobilize.
She cites as an example the protest on Nov. 26, when around 100 university students from the Youth Alliance Against Media Monsters (反媒體巨獸青年聯盟) staged an overnight, sit-in protest in front of the Executive Yuan.
“When I was there, there were about 20 to 50 students ... They all had their computers and were on their cellphones. As time progressed, more and more people started showing up,” Ketty Chen recalls.
Another action taken by the young activists took place during a protest outside the Fair Trade Commission and Legislative Yuan on Nov. 29, which was joined by about 500 students from more than 30 universities and colleges from around the country. At one point, the organizers asked all participants to take pictures of themselves, post them on Facebook and write to others about why they were there.
“As a person studying democratization in Taiwan, I had never seen things like this. There is none of our traditional taking the pictures, coming home, writing on something and updating anymore. It is live,” she says. “You follow the events of student protest in this particular case, and you see social media plays an important, intricate role, cultivating not only participation but a sense of camaraderie. It gives students a forum in cyber space.”
Ho Ming-sho (何明修), a professor at NTU’s Department of Sociology, agrees, explaining that compared to the bulletin board system PTT which encourages anonymity, Facebook meets the minimal requirement for a rational discussion in that its users are held accountable for what they say.