As social media platforms gradually occupy important position in people’s lives, their functions have gradually increased from merely sharing photos and experiences to revealing truth and organizing protest. In past few months, there has been a heated discussion over the Hongkong’s Anti-Extradition Law Amendment Bill Movement. As a person who often use different social media platforms to obtain information, I find that the different regulation modes of social media platform will lead to inequality of information and this result really affects a person’s judgment over certain incident. Hence, in this short essay, I will use the protest of Hongkong as a case study and consult other materials to demonstrate how social media platforms enable freedom of speech for individuals.
Though Hongkong and China mainland both belongs to the Republic of China, after the return of Hong Kong in 1997, as a special administrative region of China, it has been using the management system of one country, two systems. According to this system, Hongkong residents have their own judicial system and their own educational modes. Under the circumstances like this, many things that are prohibited in mainland China are allowed in Hongkong, especially, the uses of foreign social media. The protest is held due to a special agreement between China mainland and Hongkong which is called Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill. In early 2018, a Hongkong resident called Tongkai Chan killed his pregnant girlfriend in Taiwan and came back to Hongkong. Although Chan confessed to the crime, Hongkong polices were unable to charged him since there is no agreement of extradition between Taiwan and Hongkong. Since Hong Kong currently has no extradition agreement with China mainland as well, so In February 2019, the government proposed changes to fugitive laws, and aimed for transferring Hongkong fugitives to China mainland. (2019 Hong Kong extradition bill).
After the release of the law changing information, Hongkong residents are caught in panic and anger since this change of law violates the concept of one country, two systems. So, they went on street for protest to get back their democracy and autonomy. The real contradictions have intensified in recent months. I saw the daily news on Weibo, and it is said that Hong Kong police have taken a tougher approach to stop the march, such as wearing guns, and some Hong Kong marchers have carried weapons as well and attacking polices on the street, and it seems that many conflicts have occurred. However, when I open Instagram, I saw my Hongkong friends posting stories about what happened in Hongkong, in these stories, things are totally different, polices are turned into the Violent practitioner and the protestors are forced to stop the march. So, after seeing news from both side social media, I kind of get the idea and importance of freedom of speech on social media.
Luqiu did several interviews with most well-known political satirists in China, and the result of the interviews show that Chinese government has censorship over mainstream social media, and there are strict restrictions of the posted content. Chinese in mainland China cannot see what is posted on Instagram, since Chinese government has censorship over foreign social media platform. All the information that they can get are from Chinese own social media platform like Weibo, and video websites and there are strong regulation of posted information and the “improper” contents will be filtered out by the government. The strict censorships lead to the self-censor of many political satirists, and their creativities and imagination are limited by this and the content of their final products should be adjusted in order to avoid diminished. Nevertheless, even under the great censorships, social media platforms still have their functions to support the freedom of speech like the function of anonymous production and sharing (2017). On the contrary, in most of the western countries, things are different, and the overall situation is easier since social media platforms are the great places for freedom of speech. Many online revolutions and protests are held through social media platforms, and the organizers spreading out information through social media so their worldwide followers could see and support them.
Ajay and Seebaluck has pointed out “Recent studies have shown interest in looking beyond social protest at the use of social media in supporting special operations in revolutionary environments. Social media are powerful tools that can shape and influence the behavior of a population from outside the targeted country”. (p.27)
Besides, social media also enables democracy from the perspective of female groups. Van (2018) talks about the importance of social media in female body-talk or body-hood in the article and demonstrates how social media interaction and participation enables attention gathering of female visual self-representation, self-identity and belonging. Before social media became popular, women’s self-expression was very limited. During that period of time, TV commercials and media have shaped too many idealized female figures and characters so that many women have stereotypes about their own perceptions. For example, the annually show of Victoria’s Secret only have slime female models on the stage. Also, many diet pills advertisements also give people the illusion that women should be slim and thin. However, after social media became famous among more and more people, female online users starting to share their photos and also get a view of other female from different countries and regions as well. By seeing the variety of women’s appearance and their different free expression of body-hood, the stereotypes of what women should like had changed a lot.
So generally speaking, I think no matter which countries we are in, social media platforms contribute a lot to our democracy and freedom of speech. Even under the censorship of Chinese government, online users still can express themselves thanks to the anonymous functions of social media. In my opinions, social media platforms are the places that maintained balance and broke the pattern of information inequality in this big data age. It is great to see that small voices could be heard through social media and the minorities could speaks out for themselves by using variety of online platforms.
Ajay, & Seebaluck. (2014, December). How Social Media Affects the Dynamics of Protest. Retrieved September 2019, from https://apps.dtic.mil/docs/citations/ADA620897.
Luqiu, L. R. (2017). The cost of humour: Political satire on social media and censorship in China. Global Media and Communication, 13(2), 123–138. https://doi.org/10.1177/1742766517704471
Van Vuuren, M. (2018). Social media, dress and body marking: Exploring young women’s imaginative, “languages of the self”. Agenda, 32(3), 21-38.
2019 Hong Kong extradition bill. (2019, October 8). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2019_Hong_Kong_extradition_bill#Background.