How Taiwan should harness online people power

Taiwan can take a lead from the CCPs keyboard army and put people power to use online



TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Social media has made inroads into so many aspects of modern life and in Taiwan, this week, its importance in the role of public protest has been illustrated.

The story in question was Taiwanese actress Vivian Sung's (宋芸樺) fawning apology to Chinese netizens on Weibo for having the audacity to describe Taiwan as a country.

Most people would probably understand the commercial reasons why a Taiwanese actress who wants to be successful might issue a statement after the hordes of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) trolls picked up on an old interview she gave more than three years ago.

But it was the overboard manner in which she described China as her "motherland" and even praised CCP policies that damage Taiwan, which have angered fans back home.

This anger was expressed on social media, where Sung lost more than 10,000 fans overnight. It seems likely that she can look forward to much booing and protesting when she next appears in Taiwan, and rightly so.

Her actions were deeply damaging and offensive to Taiwanese people and they have a right to express this view. She could have made a much more measured statement to appease the trolls, but she chose not to and should therefore face the consequences in Taiwan.

In the broad scheme of things, the Sung incident is a relatively minor one. But it illustrates something that should be playing a much more important role in Taiwanese public life than is currently the case; the power of public protest.

Taiwan’s valuable freedom of expression

Taiwanese people are extremely proud of their democratic status and the hard-earned freedoms that they enjoy these days. Part of that is the right to express their opinions about matters of public interest and, when necessary, to take to the streets to protest things which will damage the country.

The Sunflower Movement is the most obvious example of this, when countless Taiwanese people took to the streets, and even occupied the Legislative Yuan to protest the flawed KMT trade deal with China which would have had severe consequences for Taiwan.

Image Credit: Flickr user – Artemas Liu

But since the successes of that glorious summer of 2014, such moments have been few and far between. The only subsequent protests of real consequence in Taiwan were against the KMTs ludicrous pro-China educational textbook reforms.

Indeed, these days there has been a sense that Taiwan has reverted back to the state of two-party snipping and reactionary politics rather than driving forward towards a bold new future.

This is a real opportunity lost for Taiwan and it is time that the people of Taiwan stood up and made their voice heard once more. And as a country which spends more time online than almost any other in the world, the internet would seem to be an obvious platform for protest.

How Taiwan can mobilize its keyboard warriors

Hostility from Communist China is making life pretty difficult for Taiwan at the moment. But rather than voicing their opposition, many people seem to be sitting back and letting the Government handle everything. The Tsai Administration are doing a pretty decent job in the circumstances, but they would certainly benefit from a sense that the people of Taiwan are on their side too, rather than sitting back and criticizing when things go wrong.

The Vivian Sung case shows that when people unite to protest an issue, they can have an impact. But there are much more important issues for them to be making a stand on, that one minor celebrity pandering to the CCP.

Taiwan is currently under siege from CCP and those international companies that are willing to kowtow to their outrageous demands in order to secure their Chinese income streams. But, while there has been a few online mumblings, there does not yet appear to be a concerted online campaign to hit back against these companies in Taiwan. There should be.

Taiwanese people should be uniting to boycott those international airlines, hotel chains, and other companies which now refer to Taiwan as a province of China. They should also be launching a concerted online effort to encourage people in friendly countries, and those opposed to the CCP’s regime and human rights abuses, to do the same.

Take inspiration from China

But there is much more that they can do, and inspiration can, ironically, be taken from the CCP’s troll army. In China, there are countless people who are funded by the Communist regime to agitate online on their behalf. The Taiwanese government is not going to fund a similar keyboard army, and as a respected democratic country, nor should they. But Taiwanese people can take a stand on their own.

There could be a concerted effort to seek out anti-Taiwanese, and even pro-CCP content on international social media sites and news sites and flag it to the Taiwanese Government and relevant authorities. This could lead to more official protests against false stories about Taiwan emanating from China, as well as highlight which websites and social media outlets are happy to peddle CCP propaganda and fake news stories.

Equally, there could be a movement to hold international media outlets responsible for their coverage of Taiwan. Too often, overseas newspapers and broadcast media follow the CCP line on Taiwan and it would be great to see this picked up, highlighted, and pressure exerted on them to change.

There could even be an effort to change the way the CCP is referred to internationally. Talking about them merely as the Chinese Government is not eally a fair or accurate portrayal of this brutal Communist one-party state. It could even be argued that the term normalizes the CCP’s myriad of horrific activities and human rights abuses.

Even adding comments to articles about the CCP which highlight their human rights abuses, online controls, economic malpractice, and endemic corruption could begin to change the narrative around Communist China and so aid Taiwan’s position in the world.

To be effective, such a campaign would need to be organized. Ideally, it would also be a-political, and driven by a desire to improve Taiwan’s standing in the world, rather than benefit a particular political party.

It would be naïve to think that such actions can make a significant impact in the short-term geo-political challenges that Taiwan faces as a result of Chinese hostility.

But in the long term, public online pressure has the potential to play a crucial role in reshaping international perceptions about both Taiwan and China. Chinese trolls are already having a big impact, supported by the CCP regime. It is time for Taiwanese truth warriors to try and have a similar impact.