Issues, not personalities, stir net users to action

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 11:10pm


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The theme of a protest matters more to the online community than the political personalities behind the rallies, a study has found. Internet users tend to trust online media more than traditional print and electronic sources, it also found.

The Community Development Initiative, a non-government organisation, based its findings on a poll of 245 web users, a focus group and a case study of Hong Kong Reporter, the city's largest internet radio website.

Baptist University lecturer Shiu Ka-chun, a consultant for the study, said the government should not simply think it could manipulate the 'political ecology' by setting up social media websites. 'It's often said whoever controls the media can control the world,' he said. 'The study shows it's not that simple.'

Of those surveyed, 176 took part in social movements or protests. And two-thirds of these said the key factor that led them to take to the street was whether the issue was related to their personal interests or affected them. Only 6 per cent said they protested because they were attracted by politicians and protest personalities.

Michael Mo Kwan-tai, the initiative's chief development officer, said that while most respondents trusted online media more, three people interviewed in the focus group thought the opposite. He said the two platforms performed best when they complemented each other.

Mo also said online media played a helpful role in social movements by providing a platform for a faster flow of information and bringing together people with similar ideas and beliefs.

Anthony Lam Yue-yeung, a producer at Hong Kong Reporter, said the charisma of politicians was very important. Most of its hosts are members of the radical People Power party.

'We can attract way more people to a protest than other pan-democratic parties. Our hosts can discuss topics in a way that touches people's hearts,' he said.

To Yiu-ming, an associate professor of journalism at Baptist University, said online social media was an inexpensive way for movements to reach critical mass. He cited the example of Scholarism, a group of high school pupils opposed to the introduction of national education in Hong Kong schools, which was founded on Facebook.