Internet-Facilitated Social Activism in Taiwan: Modes and Constraints

Saturday, July 19, 2014: 1:00 PM
Room: F206
Oral Presentation
Albert TZENG , International Inst Asian Studies, Leiden, Netherlands
Jing-wen ZHANG , Department of Sociology, National Tsing-Hua University, Taiwan
On 3th Aug 2013, a group of 39 anonymous ‘netizens’ mobilised, largely via the internet, a crowd of estimated 250,000 people in front of Taiwan's President Office to mourn for the man-made death of a military corporal, Mr Hung Chung-Chiu, and to protest against how the government responded to the case. The pressure forced the government to concede, agreeing to abolish the distrusted military judicial system during peace time.

The 803 protest marked a new mode of the internet-facilitated social activism in Taiwan. Its sudden surge and the much-acclaimed ‘success’ drove many veteran social activists and oppositional politicians into self-questioning why they had failed to stage a rally at a comparable scale in recent years—even with the help of internet. The question calls for a comparative analysis of this incident and other internet-facilitated social movements.  

Drawing from literature review, interviews and some participant observations, this paper surveyed the existing practices of internet-facilitated social movement in Taiwan— a young democracy known for its strength in computing and communication technologies. Four ideal-typical categories are identified and discussed: (1) online activism of conventional advocacy/concern groups, (2) communication platform aimed at facilitating public deliberation and social empowering, (3) issue-specific protest initiated in a decentralised, less consolidated fashion among concerned ‘netizens’ and (4) various ‘open access’ projects initiated within an IT-savvy community (e.g. the ‘g0v,’ zero time government project).

A model will be theorized from the comparative analysis to account for the varying scales of public participation with three factors: emotional epidemic factor, cognitive entry barrier and technological entry barrier. At last, a normative ethic on managing the scale of activism will be developed with the ‘public attention’ considered as a scarce public resource. The various modes of internet-facilitated activism will be critically evaluated with the ethics in mind.