Thu, Feb 14, 2013 - Page 12 News List

Students, activism and social networks

The ongoing anti-media monopolization campaign reveals a new kind of protest movement that relies on social media and moves beyond the traditional blue and green political divide

By Ho Yi  /  Staff reporter

“The messages you see on Facebook are posted by your friends, and friends of friends. So a characteristic of Facebook that makes it a powerful tool is its ability to build a strong network within a group of individuals,” Ho says. “Sometimes a social movement doesn’t spread the message to persuade 50 percent of the people, but to unite a handful.”

Ho also thinks that by holding accessible activities embraced by youth, activists may risk making the movement “superficial” and “trendy,” but the influence and outreach they bring are likely to surpass the negative impact.

Leung Man-to (梁文韜), a professor from Hong Kong teaching in the Department of Political Science at NCKU, says large-scale protests against Chinese national education in the former British colony last summer illustrates the need for diverse approaches to mobilization. According to Leung, when Scholarism, an anti-national education secondary school student organization based in Hong Kong, first started the campaign in 2011 through the Internet, not many people paid attention. When a series of news events erupted, people began to notice the seriousness of the issue. Meanwhile, the organizers employed different methods to raise awareness ranging from making phone calls to holding events and lectures on the street to using YouTube to get the word out.

“Social media is good to facilitate communications among core members, but to have a revolution, you need to have the right people in the right place at the right time … What’s more important is how to continue the momentum when the movement ends,” says Leung, whose experiences with activism date back to 1989 when he supported the Chinese student movement that ended with the Tiananmen Square Massacre.

Members of Taiwan’s Youth Alliance Against Media Monsters continues to find ways to break out of their social circles. They have recruited and assisted students who have no experience with activism to set up their own events on campus. So far, there are main contact points in several schools to manage recruitment in different parts of the nation, says Hung.

Some members held a cross-country tour last month, explaining the campaign to locals in parks, by the roadside and at night markets. “This is how humanity works. We have to see it, hear it and touch it ourselves to truly understand it,” Hung says.

Generational differences

For former Wild Strawberries, another big change is their attitude toward party politics. In 2008, students were worried about being “painted green” so they rejected collaboration with any opposition party or group. Today, however, organizers do not rule out collaboration so as to put more pressure on the ruling party.

“Some people think problems are bound to happen if we get too close to political parties. To some extent, they are right. But instead of saying no to any possibility, we should think of better ways to collaborate, to demand opposition groups to work harder,” Lin says.

Ketty Chen believes that new student movements show a kind of awareness that is beyond party politics. “Politicians like to say ‘we are Taiwanese. We need to stand out.’ To young people, identity is no longer an issue. They are confident about who they are. What draws them to the street now is social justice issues,” she says.

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