Comunicar Journal Blog

New media phenomenon or new media culture?

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Cabalín, C. (2014). Online and Mobilized Students: The Use of Facebook in the Chilean Student Protests [Estudiantes conectados y movilizados: El uso de Facebook en las protestas estudiantiles en Chile]. Comunicar, 43, 25-33. (DOI: 10.3916/C43-2014-02).

In the recent years, following the Occupy Wall Street movement which happened in 2011, large-scale movements occurred around the world. Among the movements with a large variety of topics, the deteriorating survival environment for the college graduates introduced by the enlarging of neo-liberalism makes the distinctive social background to the series of occupy movements. In the same thread, movements with a huge number of young participants outbreak in the following years in European countries (e.g. the 15M in Spain). The students’ movement happened in Chile which was studied by Cabalín-Quijada, also represents a typical example of anti-neo-liberalism in the education arena. These recent movements have witnessed a commonality which refers to the widely use of social media in terms of internal communication and mobilization.


I have been doing research on different movement cases in Hong Kong and Taiwan, where the penetration rate of smart phone among the young people in these two places have reach over a hundred percent. Without much doubt that, social media, especially Facebook has played a dominant role in social movement mobilization. Due to the characteristics of Facebook, such as immediacy and multi-format of presentation, the young people in Hong Kong and Taiwan somewhat actually reveal some similarities to the Chilean youths. In my current research project, I studied how the young activists utilized Facebook in the anti-national education movement in Hong Kong and the anti-media monopoly movement in Taiwan. Similarly to the Chilean counterparts, the youths in the two Asian movements largely relied on Facebook to disseminate the most updated first-hand action information. But different from the Chilean students, who used Facebook as a channel to continually criticize their opponents (e.g. the government), the Hong Kong and Taiwan young activists very often exhibited how paramount the support they got from the public. By highlighting the supports they had got from the ordinary citizens from various social backgrounds, they activists legitimized their movement justice. It seems that, the Chilean student activists legitimized their movement through the “antagonist frame” while the Hong Kong and Taiwan activists utilized the “audience frame”.

However, what draws my further contemplation is far beyond the contents shown on the movement social media. Instead, as said by Cabalín-Quijada, studying the new information technologies could involve three levels of analysis, including the identity politics, different forms of content representation and the media practices in diverse social areas. But it seems that the current study on Chile’s student movement fails to answer the proposed question on “the circulation and construction of cultural identities, representations, meanings and collective commitments in digital media”, simply by categorizing and calculating the contents on FECH’s Facebook. In order to have further understanding on the activists’ preference of posting certain types of contents on social media, one may employ in-depth interview or focus group in order to fill the whole picture. In my own research, I have found that the young activists from Hong Kong and Taiwan have largely acquired the social media logic, in which they care much about what the netizen like to read (e.g. 1/3 words and 2/3 images) and what style of posts (e.g. prominent figures with sound-bite) would draw more attention. Then they tend to tailor make their posts according to the social media logic. And this logic has permeated in people’s everyday life and became the dominant communication culture. As when a couple are dining in a fancy restaurant, the cellphone camera must be the first one getting the first bite of every plate of food.

(Klavier Wong@Hong Kong Baptist University)