Social media and citizen protests
Internet, now available to the majority of people, ensures that information can be accessed from everywhere and shared with anyone. By breaking the psychological barrier of fear (Kassim,2012), the internet plays a big role in expressing one’s dissatisfaction. Social media gives enormous powers to protesters by enabling them to communicate at a high speed and creating worldwide awareness concerning the (perceived) unjustness of the status quo. One famous example is the role of Twitter and Facebook in the Arab Spring.
FireChat, previously used in Taiwan to protest a trade agreement, is currently driving the Hong Kong pro-democracy demonstrations. Initially, the nonviolent protesters were using Instagram to communicate and posted many photos of the police suppressing them by means of tear gas. As a result, China blocked Instagram and increased censoring search results on Baidu (the country’s largest search engine). This resulted in more than 100,000 FireChat downloads over the past weekend (Forbes, 2014).
FireChat is an instant messaging application comparable to WhatsApp, however what makes it so popular during protests is that works without WiFi or a carrier connection. Due to this disruptive application, China will not accomplish anything by shutting down the web further and they will have to come up with something new. One risk for the (Chinese) user is that everything typed on FireChat is completely public and messages can be traced back to their phones. At this time, Chinese ISPs are blocking FireChat users, however these blocks can be avoided by using virtual private networks. Simultaneously, FireChat is working on an encryption and private messaging feature to increase safety of its users.
The question is, what will China do next? What do you think of China’s actions?
Personally, I believe that China’s blockages and censorships make the problems only worse. By blocking the communication channels, China demonstrates that the protestors are right and that they are desperate to silence them. FireChat is the evidence that the protestors will always find a medium to communicate their ideas.