“Hello, this is XXX, coming to you live from Taipei. We are going to broadcast a three-party talk live around half past 12. We are currently doing some technical tests, so please stand by ...”
These familiar opening lines did not come from a TV program or a full-time reporter, but from the student demonstrators at Liberty Square in Taipei, who transmitted information to everyone with Internet access. Not only is this a historical change for Taiwan’s student movements, it is also challenging the prejudice and distortions of mainstream media in reporting dissenting opinion.
It is not an overstatement to view the demonstration as a “high-tech student movement.”
At the beginning, between 400 and 500 students were mobilized overnight using the Internet to a rally staged in front of the Executive Yuan, where the students expressed their dissatisfaction with alleged police brutality during the recent visit by Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Strait Chairman Chen Yunlin (陳雲林) and the Assembly and Parade Law (集會遊行法) that is said to have violated the protesters’ freedom of speech. While reporters were still covering anti-Chen demonstrations at the Grand Hotel and Grand Formosa Regent Taipei where a massive police presence was stationed, students had already sent out messages about their sit-in protests on the Internet.
After being moved from the Executive Yuan by police, students regrouped at Liberty Square to protest. It was amazing that in addition to rain shelters and generators, tables and chairs, four to five computers were set up in a row at the venue. The young generation is not only familiar with Internet technology, but also able to broadcast news live in Chinese, English and Japanese and send information thousands of kilometers away. The 24-hour live broadcast became a live, uncut reality show of the student’s demands.
They told the public: “Whatever mainstream media outlets cannot or are not willing to do, we will do by ourselves. We will be our own media.”
High-tech social movements initiated on the Internet have existed for a while. The Internet allows non-government organizations and local communities to effectively form alliances across borders. In particular, when an issue comes up, the Internet can help further discussion and communication between organizations, or even mobilize people with a particular position in an attempt to change the development of the issue.
Another example is the Internet mobilization of Chinese people around the world in protest of assaults and killings of ethnic Chinese women in Indonesia.
Last year, up to 20,000 residents of Xiamen City in China’s Fujian Province were mobilized through cellphone text messages and through the Internet to protest against the construction of a chemical plant in the city.
More importantly, the Internet serves as a mouthpiece for disadvantaged groups.
The Zapatista Army of National Liberation is a revolutionary group in Chiapas, Mexico consisting of grassroots farmers who suffered from the North American Free Trade Agreement, and who were besieged by heavily armed police forces. However, this grassroots resistance gained international support after uploading locally gathered information onto the Internet.
Images circulated on the Internet of masked guerillas left a deep impression on many people. In addition, this revolutionary movement and the way it is voicing its opposition have been described as the first “post-modern” movement by the New York Times.
The way the aforementioned social movements used the real-time, interactivity and far-reaching high tech of the Internet can all be found in the student demonstration on Liberty Square. Using the Internet, the student demonstrators connected to all of Taiwan and implemented deliberative democracy to make their voice heard.
Let this serve as a warning to both the establishment and its bureaucrats and mainstream media outlets: Passive inaction and selective or distorted reporting will no longer convince the public because the government and the mainstream media are no longer the only sources of news.
Of course, it cannot be denied that a successful movement needs not only technology, but also the power of discourse and organization as a foundation for its broadcasts. This is the challenge facing student movements when they are trying to overcome the external obstacles to getting their voices heard.
Hung Chen-ling is an assistant professor at National Taiwan University’s Graduate Institute of Journalism.
TRANSLATED BY TED YANG
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