In 2014, thousands of college students launched a boycott to oppose China’s rejection of free elections in 2017. The protesters demanded “One person, on vote” democratic voting system. However, this does not fit in Chinese government agenda. On September 26, 2014, students started their sit-in protest outside of government headquarters in Central, Hong Kong. Three days after, police used tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowds. But that only fueled a public outcry which brought even more protesters into the streets, with estimates reaching up to 200,000 people.
While physical protest occupying major intersections in Hong Kong, online activism also took place on major social media platforms. This protest was wide-spreader with effective communication among the network of experienced media activists. They are the ones participated in previous social activism, such as Occupy Wall Street and Arab Spring. As Costanza-Chock mentions in Mic Check! Media Cultures and the Occupy Movement, these experienced movement actors play key roles in creating, curating and circulating media texts, as well as in shaping the media culture of the movement. They highlighted the protest on social media, such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. Originally, protesters were broadcasting the event on Instagram with short videos and pictures, and post comments with “#occupycentral” on Twitter.
Days after the initial protest, the chinese government blocked Instagram in mainland China days, then heavily censored reference to Hong Kong on social media*. However, it did not prevent the Hong Kong media activists to continue fighting for democracy on social media. The fight for suffrage in Hong Kong was being fueled by tweets and hashtags of protesters from around the world. The Umbrella Revolution had over 1.3 million tweets between September 26 to 29. That means over 1.3 million opportunities to be heard, to persuade someone, and to advocate for change.
With the access to websites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, protesters have the power of mass communication at their fingertips. Social media, in this instance, is a tool that can is being used to spread the word and draw global attention to what is happening in Hong Kong.
*China’s firewall only censored in mainland China, excluding Hong Kong and Macau. This prevents Chinese Internet users from accessing information deemed threatening to Communist regime.