Chee Sing Chan
Recent scenes across Hong Kong have shocked and awed local and international audiences. While not as violent as other recent street conflicts, for a city-state known for its stability, rule of law, and generally submissive society, the sight of masses taking to the Hong Kong streets in defiance of the government and China is staggering.
How technology and social media have enabled this uprising is key. Thousands of Hong Kongers mobilized and stayed in touch because of social media, the Internet and the proliferation of smartphones.
Supporters and sympathizers are glued to Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Vine, Youtube and WeChat and a slew of other social media platforms. People wait eagerly for instructions on where to rally, how to help, what supplies to provide, and where to deliver them.
Since September 26, there have been over 1.3 million tweets related to the Hong Kong protests, according to Twitter. And if connectivity fails, not a problem – peer-to-peer app FireChat was downloaded by over 100,000 people on September 28, the Sunday which saw crowds hit with tear gas.
These weapons of mass disorder are evident in every social uprising in recent times – from the “Arab Spring” of 2011-2012 and the London riots around the same time to more recent clashes in the US town of Ferguson.
What these messaging platforms and tools have done is break down the traditional pillars of control – the mainstream mass media.
Many leading figures have alluded to how technology, the Internet and social media have rendered the traditional gatekeepers of information to the distrusted purveyors of tinted truth. Among them: former US VP Al Gore, who told Hong Kong audiences during a 2012 conference that traditional media is increasingly seen as too easily influenced by those with money and power.
Gore said that today’s wave of technologies is returning the distribution of information to the people, and Hong Kong is now experiencing this firsthand.
Forbes contributor Greg Satell wrote this in a recent column titled ‘Why American Values Are More Important Than Ever’: Moisés Naím explained in his book “The End of Power” that technology, along with globalization and economic trends, has made “power easier to get, but harder to use or keep” and that brings us to the present dilemma. We now know how to disrupt, but we still have no clear formula for bridging the gap from disruption to legitimacy.
Now with the world’s attention on Hong Kong and the pro-democracy movement, the challenge for its leaders is how to best leverage this opportunity that has been harnessed at lightning speed – with help from technology. Regardless of the conclusion, the most significant result is that these weapons of the masses have given a more powerful voice to the people of Hong Kong.
How these views will be met in coming months is now down to the various leaders on all sides. Welcome to a new era folks – the people have finally spoken, and they demand a better future.