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.


One response to “Social media and citizen protests”

  1. robbertbrouwers says :

    Great post and absolutely something to think about.

    I was listening some radio in the car this morning and they were discussing this matter as well. It’s difficult to imagine the differences in freedom that still exist nowadays; whereas we are able to freely roam the internet, this is absolutely not the case in China. The discussion on the radio even mentioned that China uses this protest to show that ‘The west’ is teaming up on China and these protests are a result of that. (ie. it’s Europe and the US’s fault)

    Now for us its relatively simple to realise that’s bullocks, but imagine living somewhere where you cannot access foreign news channels, social media etc, and basically have grown up in a place where one party (government) dominates the news and thats it. Why would you doubt what they are saying? You’ve never heard anything else.

    They mentioned on the radio that today/yesterday (can’t exactly remember) was the first day that the protest has even been mentioned on the Chinese news. Not with video or something; they just mentioned it and that’s it.

    It’s crazy and I’m not sure whether blocking communication channels will actually make Chinese citizens realise that their government is doing “something wrong”; They have such an immense amount of control over their people that they are probably able to rationalise it for their citizens.

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