Date
19 November 2017
Students use mobile phones in the middle of a sit-in. The well-organized campaign would not have been possible without the social media savvy of the protesters. Photo: AFP
Students use mobile phones in the middle of a sit-in. The well-organized campaign would not have been possible without the social media savvy of the protesters. Photo: AFP

How social media powered a leaderless movement

Umbrella Revolution or Umbrella Student Movement? Either way, you would agree it’s a social media event.

The movement has been largely leaderless, unlike most mass protests that are inspired and directed by a single individual.

This one is the result of people using media platforms to communicate with one another and organize themselves, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported Monday, citing columnist Ko Tin-yau.

That is how the protesters ran rings around the government and expanded their occupation of Central into similar sit-ins in Admiralty, Causeway Bay, Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok. 

Similar to the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia and the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan, the Hong Kong protest caught authorities off-guard despite months of preparations.

They failed to anticipate developments and were largely disorganized in deploying counter measures, Ko was quoted as saying.

In contrast, the protesters had more success organizing themselves and moving as one.

Occupy Central’s three co-founders and the brains behind student group Scholarism were more like spiritual leaders compared with their counterparts in other mass movements.

For instance, Monday’s decision to pull back from government headquarters came after appeals were posted on social media. There were no direct orders from Occupy Central or Scholarism, Ko said.      

The well-knit structure is not due to traditional planning or any kind of top-down chain of command but out of a shared sense on social media.

When the protest rolled across key areas, there had been widespread discussions on whatsapp and Facebook. No single voice directed the next step but the protesters arrived at a consensus nonetheless.

Such flawless execution would not have been possible without the social media savvy of the participants, Ko said.

That allowed them to use the internet to their advantage, something their elders in the establishment could not.

Executive councilor Regina Ip showed her lack of understanding of social media when she said the Facebook conversations proved the protesters were well funded.

You don’t pay to post a comment on Facebook or read one. The protesters were on Wi-fi and those who did not have access tapped into those who did. 

If the authorities wanted to cripple the protesters’ communications network, they could have blocked internet access for a few hours in Admiralty or any one of the protest venues, Ko said.

Then again, they would have been quickly accused of shutting down free speech.

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