• Thu
  • Dec 18, 2014
  • Updated: 11:09pm
My Take
PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 March, 2014, 3:54am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 March, 2014, 3:54am

The power of social media cannot replace leadership

To tweet is not to lead. Unfortunately, many young activists, in Hong Kong and around the world, mistake their ability to field rallies with hundreds or even thousands of people for leadership.

I recently met a university student leader who proudly boasted to me that he could field dozens to hundreds of people with just a few tweets to join a protest over any current political issue. Now here's a consummate protester who knows how to make clever use of social media. He joined or helped organise many recent mass protests, from those against national education to those for press freedom after former Ming Pao chief Kevin Lau Chun-to was viciously attacked. I don't underestimate his power to rally. In fact, as a techno-dinosaur, I am in awe of him and his friends.

But I do question his ability to lead, and to translate protests into meaningful policy changes. I doubt if he really has specific policies on issues he and his mates are fighting for and how to bring about those changes. Despite the advent of social media, there is still no substitute for political leadership. In their fight for universal suffrage, one problem with the pan-democrats is that they have no real leadership. Interestingly, many young activists today think old-style democrats like those from the Democratic Party are either outdated, corrupted or irrelevant.

Meanwhile, Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai Yiu Ting has been using internet platforms to enable people - without leaders, unless you count Tai as one - to try to build democratic systems from the ground up. His efforts are deliberately anti-leadership, as if having leaders who propose or dictate a democratic system is in some way non-democratic. There is an excellent analysis of this global phenomenon in The New York Times by Zeynep Tufekci, a fellow at the Centre for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University.

From the Arab Spring to the mass protests that brought down former Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych, social media have been a great tool to rally people without explicit leadership. Yet, it's one thing to paralyse a government. It's something else to win power and shape policy outcomes. For that, many young people, in Hong Kong and elsewhere, still need a political education and to become leaders.

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This article is now closed to comments

whymak
Mr. Lo,
Time to pack away your Great Books, Newton's Principia Mathematica or Russell's tome with a more or less similar title. You have totally underestimated the powers of Internet morons.
Science and logic are irrelevant. Social media giants like Facebook and Twitter made zillions based on the new business paradigm -- morons could socially network and play electronic games 30 hours in a working day. Watching riders in HK Metro is a living proof.
There is nothing to stop it. Of course, staying awake for 30 hours in a 24-hour day make people talk and chant in street demonstrations like zombies in the Night of the Living Dead. But that's precisely the secret of Moron Power.
lui.thw@gmail.com
Where did the author suggest a real leader has to learn to use uncivilized and barbaric methods?
honger
Mak,
Your wit is brilliant!
I do shudder to think of how the future might be shaped by the likes of such.
honger
Your comment is yet another example of zombies twisting and turning facts - Lo never even wrote the things you accused him of.
This is what we will get if we let zombies rule!
Ant Lee
Complete load of rubbish
impala
This column is so far removed from reality, it is laughable.

How does Mr Lo imagine that, even if credible leaders and such organisations would exist, they would influence policy making in HK?

Even if such a leader would make it into LegCo, (s)he would still have zero influence. LegCo may not draft bills itself (except symbolic ones that involve no expenditure, nor influence the working of the government). At best, it may refuse a bill the Government proposes, but this requires a majority, and guess what? Thanks to our distorted system of functional constituencies, the Government is de facto always assured of majority in LegCo, which has increasingly become little more than a rubber-stamp body with a couple of big-mouths on it to keep the appearance of pluriformity.

The way non-government-aligned organisations can supposedly influence the policy making process is through the public consultations. But through sad and sorry experiences, we all know what those really are: exercises in trying to make a pre-determined outcome look like it emerges spontaneously and harmoniously from 'the community.' Anything that does not fit the government's will or want, is never heard of again.

So yes, what are left with? Street protests indeed.

Asking real leaders and serious opposition organisations to emerge now is akin to asking the cart the pull the horse. First build a system in which such actors can actually meaningfully influence policy making, then they will come.
pslhk
Leader is defined by followers
No follower no leader
What attracts or binds followers to a leader
-
Some standardized lowest denominator
primordial factors like urges for one-night stands
everybody sharing the same senses,
which are so often mislabeled
“core value” or “universal standards”
decentralized legitimization of action
by rats following their pied piper
GPCR
-
Some acquired taste of Claude Levi-Strauss or Derrida
for musing in cloisters not street rallies
each with its centralized authority
in succession known as paradigm shift
-
Should centralized authority with outlandish taste
claim unquestioned legitimacy and impose bizarre standards?
-
AL: “social media have been A Great Tool
to rally people without explicit leadership”
CFA has just ruled that internet is a medium
something non physical, intangible and therefore immaterial
-
In America Business 1820 – 2000
HBS head T McCraw confirms Sloan’s observation
that the crux of management of organizations
from families to companies and countries
is about centralization, decentralization and interaction
-
Western social institution over-centralizes judicial authority
that for myopic reasons often stresses entitlements
of egomaniac and loud individuals
at the expense of the community
urbanized collection of disconnected units
sharing standardized lowest denominator
-
Power play as described by E P Thomson
321manu
I don't often agree with Mr. Lo, but this is a rare exception. It is easy to complain about what other people are doing, but much harder to offer an alternate (and hopefully better) solution. The various social media platforms provide plenty of venues for noise, but that doesn't necessarily equate to substance. That being said, such venues do not mechanistically preclude substance, but instead would hopefully ease the propagation of someone with substance. As a learned appeals court judge recently said, the internet is the medium...it is up to individuals to make use of it.
nmp_inc
Bringing down a government IS a "policy outcome". It may not be one you agree with, or like, but the reality is that social media facilitated has material effects. Going further, it would seem if social media facilitated protests resonate with sufficient members of the public and the government fails than it was the formerly incumbent leader's who needed the political schooling so as to avoid creating a situation that precipitated regime change. The times are a changing. Change or be changed.
Decentralist
Politics IS violence and barbarism. Democracy is the definition of minority oppression and politics is the principle of a few dictating the lives of the majority through the barrel of a gun.

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