“On Facebook, everything you say leaves a record. So people will at least talk in a rational manner,” Ho says.
The academics’ observations are supported by Liu’s experience as a Facebook user who frequently comments on current events, reads other people’s opinions and exchanges ideas as though engaging in “virtual discussion sessions.” However, when it comes to physically bringing people out, Liu believes that student clubs aiming to address social issues and promote interest in social causes on campus can help to provide motivation.
“These clubs are important because they call on people to act. Those who agree with them will follow the call. But if there is no such organization on campus, people will probably just keep their ideas and feelings inside,” she says.
Liu’s perspective finds articulation in the experience of Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆), co-convener of the Youth Alliance Against Media Monsters and one of the leaders in the recent wave of student protests. In 2008, Lin, then a second-year student at National Cheng Kung University (NCKU), joined the Wild Strawberry Movement (野草莓運動), which was initiated by college students and professors to protest excessive police force against demonstrators who opposed the visit of Chen Yunlin (陳雲林), chairman of China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait.
During the two-month long protest, students in six cities including Hsinchu, Taichung, Tainan and Kaohsiung, held sit-ins on university campuses to show support. The organizers used the Internet to connect and recruit, mainly through the bulletin board system (BBS), according to Lin.
“The problem with the Wild Strawberry [movement] is that it had a distinct break from the previous student movements [in the 1980s and 1990s] since nearly all activist clubs on campus had disappeared by then. So it had to rely on the Internet to get the word out,” says Lin, who is currently a graduate student in NTU’s Department of Political Science.
Lacking existing networks and organizational experience, the Wild Strawberry Movement soon suffered from dissension and disputes because participating students “didn’t know each other and often suspected others of maintaining the interests of a particular political party or opposition group,” Lin says.
Lin adds that the inability to communicate and reach out further created a gap between student protesters and the majority of students on campus who weren’t interested in learning about the protest, let alone participating.
“The failure left some scarred and feeling defeated, while some chose to stay and re-organize,” he says.
Wild Strawberries across the country started to set up student clubs and groups at their own colleges and universities, including the Black Forest Studio (黑森林工作室) at National Chung Hsing University, whose name comes from a political student club that was active during the 1980s.
Lin and several other comrades established the 02 Group (零貳社) at NCKU.
Chen Wei-ting, another Wild Strawberry and a then-student at the Taipei Municipal Jianguo High School, soon became a member of Radical (基進筆記), a student group that publishes campus news on a monthly basis and aims to raise awareness of social and political issues at National Tsing Hua University.