Social media fuels political protests in Hong Kong

The pro-democracy movement relies on tech and strategy to get its message out

The student protestors in Hong Kong are rallying around social media as a means to communicate and coordinate efforts. It’s the beginnings of another political movement driven by social media communications. When trying to take exception with powerful and omnipresent governments, the masses are resorting to social channels to coordinate, communicate, and get the word out to the rest of the world. Just don’t call it a revolution.

What’s the story behind the political unrest in Hong Kong?

In case you are unfamiliar, here is some background on the politics in Hong Kong. In 1997 British rule ended in Hong Kong and they turned control over to China. The agreement then was that Hong Kong and China would co-exist as "one country, two systems" until 2017 when Hong Kong would be free to elect their own leader and become a democracy. Since then, Hong Kong has been ruled by China but they have pretty much "done their own thing" over the last 17 years. Hong Kong has operated under their own set of less strict rules than those that govern Mainland China. The political unrest started late last month when China said that they would have to approve anyone who would be up for election as Hong Kong’s leader. However, many people in Hong Kong have been skeptical all along about whether or not China and the Communist Party leaders in Beijing would truly sit by and let democracy happen.

Student Led Protests Turned Democratic Movement

Students in Hong Kong strongly believe in their rights and value democracy, so as you can imagine, this statement from China did not go well. They began peaceful protests on 22 September with a 5 day class strike at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The strike was led by the Hong Kong Federation of Students alongside members of Occupy Central With Love and Peace. The original plans for a peaceful protest turned ugly with police shooting the crowds with tear gas and pepper spray. The peaceful protests have now escalated into a full blow democratic movement. The students have been using umbrellas – among other defenses – to protect themselves from the tear gas and pepper spray. Thus, much of the media, mostly Western media, have begun to refer to this as the Umbrella Revolution. However; Occupy protesters and local media have refrained from calling it that. Instead they have used the phrase umbrella movement or umbrella democracy movement. Other media outlets have also avoided the term revolution altogether and instead used the terms "Occupy Central conflict" or "political reform storm". The student leaders coordinating the protests specifically explain that they just want democracy; they are not initiating a revolution. The Chinese media is trying to make them out as extremists and revolutionaries and that is just not the case. They just want the chance at democracy they were promised 17 years ago.

Social Media Fuels the Fire

The Chinese government is doing what it can to control the media and hinder social media communications. It even shut down access to Instagram and has been regularly blocking internet access. The students are responding by using communication tools like Whats App and the new application called FireChat that is Bluetooth-enabled to communicate amongst themselves and show their story to the world via videos posted to Facebook and other social networks they are able to gain access to. The Hong Kong media shows the story of the pro-democracy demonstrations too. The student groups are getting savvier and wiser about fake users trying to derail efforts to coordinate and establishing trusted sources through social channels based on video evidence of past involvement in demonstrations. Everywhere you look in Hong Kong, you will see people using their smartphones, actively communicating information with each other and sharing their story with the world through social media.

Eric Thomas is blogger and Brand Manager for BrandMe USB drives

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