The Role of Digital Media in Large-Scale Protests in Hong Kong

Keynote talk by Professor Francis L.F. Lee, the Chinese University of Hong Kong.


Much has been written in the past two decades about how digital media could facilitate and empower social protests, whereas more and more scholars have also noted how digital media could undermine social protests either because of problematic online phenomena or because of the state's capability of appropriating the Internet for political control. This talk will review the experience of Hong Kong throughout the 2010s, examining Umbrella Movement, June 4 Commemoration, and the Anti-Extradition Protests. In the case of the Umbrella Movement, the digital media strengthened social mobilization yet also introduced forces of decentralization, leading to a "tactical freeze" that hampered the movement in the end. On collective remembering of the 1989 Tiananmen student movement, digital media served not only as a channel for mobilization but also a memory archive. But at the same time, the state also perpetrated their narratives through online platforms. The result is memory balkanization and polarization of attitudes toward the Tiananmen Incident. In the Anti-Extradition Bill protests, digital media became even more central to an even more decentralized formation, but digital media also contributed to the spread of rumors, the practice of doxxing, and the perpetration of prejudices. The problems became particularly conspicuous when the movement started to lose momentum.

Speaker bio

Dr Francis Lee is a Professor at and Director of School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). He obtained his Bachelor's and Master’s degrees at the CUHK, and PhD at Stanford University. Professor Lee is the International Communication Association (ICA) fellow. His research interests are journalism studies, political communication, public opinion and public discourse, media and social movements, and changes in cultural values. His recent work focuses on press freedom and political change, media and collective memory of political events, media and political scandals, and postmaterialism in Hong Kong. One of his books important for this discussion series is with Joseph Man (2018) “Media and protest logics in the digital era: Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement,” published by Oxford University Press.

The event is free, but please sign up.