So­cial po­lar­iza­tion is a uni­ver­sal phe­nom­e­non

David Wong dis­cusses the so­cial di­vi­sions in Hong Kong and the US and notes that the in­ter­net — which was meant to bring peo­ple closer to­gether — bears some re­spon­si­bil­ity for these rifts

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

Hong Kong’s so­ci­ety has been deeply di­vided for quite some time; the il­le­gal “Oc­cupy Cen­tral” move­ment in 2014 merely made the divi­sion sur­face for all to see. On the re­cent Ba­sic Law in­ter­pre­ta­tion by the Stand­ing Com­mit­tee of the Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress, there were also op­po­site views in the com­mu­nity. Surely, the vast ma­jor­ity of the peo­ple of Hong Kong were ap­palled and an­gered by the in­sult­ing be­hav­ior of the Youngspi­ra­tion duo seen dur­ing the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil swear­ing-in cer­e­mony. Ac­cord­ing to them, sim­ply dis­qual­i­fy­ing the pair was not enough; their salary and al­lowances have to be re­turned and they have to be pros­e­cuted for vi­o­lat­ing or­di­nances re­gard­ing oath-tak­ing and dis­crim­i­na­tion. On the other hand, some in the com­mu­nity have al­ways op­posed most if not all kinds of Ba­sic Law in­ter­pre­ta­tions.

Di­vi­sions and even the po­lar­iza­tion of so­cial and po­lit­i­cal views are def­i­nitely not unique to Hong Kong. In fact, this may even be a com­mon trend in the world nowa­days. The US pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in the past and the re­cent elec­tion of Don­ald Trump show that this tra­di­tional demo­cratic coun­try faces prob­lems some­what sim­i­lar to what we have here. It has been ob­served that vot­ers in the coastal re­gions and metropoli­tan ar­eas tended to vote for Hil­lary Clin­ton and vot­ers in ru­ral and old in­dus­trial re­gions tended to vote for Don­ald Trump. By an­a­lyz­ing dif­fer­ent pa­ram­e­ters such as age, gen­der, ed­u­ca­tional at­tain­ment, race, sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion, re­li­gion and in­come lev­els, the vot­ing pref­er­ence of each group was rather clear.

There is more than one rea­son ex­plain­ing this kind of dis­cord in so­ci­ety, but I be­lieve the rise of the in­ter­net and so­cial me­dia in re­cent years has played an im­por­tant role. The in­ter­net has en­abled us to search for all kinds of in­for­ma­tion eas­ily. It is full of free news con­tent from var­i­ous an­gles; one can eas­ily read them all and get a more com­pre­hen­sive view of the facts. How­ever, al­most The au­thor is an ex­ec­u­tive mem­ber of the New Peo­ple’s Party and a for­mer civil ser­vant. no one does that. On the con­trary, most young peo­ple nowa­days not only stick to a sin­gle source for news on the in­ter­net; they also only watch on­line videos in­stead of read­ing ar­ti­cles and com­men­taries. More and more peo­ple are be­gin­ning to be­lieve that watch­ing a minute-long video is enough to al­low them to un­der­stand the true na­ture of ev­ery in­ci­dent — and then they feel em­pow­ered to use their so-called crit­i­cal think­ing skills to crit­i­cize just about ev­ery­thing.

More­over, most of these on­line news videos are dis­trib­uted through so­cial me­dia. Peo­ple pay more at­ten­tion to posts, pho­tos and videos of their on­line friends and most peo­ple only be­friend those who share the same so­cial and po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy. Peo­ple with con­tra­dict­ing views have been “un­friended” and “un­fol­lowed” on­line so it is un­likely peo­ple will come across dis­sim­i­lar views on so­cial me­dia. By con­tin­u­ously read­ing and hear­ing only in­for­ma­tion pre­sented in a way that matches their own views and val­ues, many peo­ple’s be­liefs keep get­ting so­lid­i­fied and rad­i­cal­ized. In other words, while we all live in the same small city, we live in al­most com­pletely sep­a­rate worlds that are poles apart. The in­ter­net was meant to bring the world and peo­ple closer to­gether; it is ironic that it is partly re­spon­si­ble for so­cial divi­sion.

The preva­lence of so­cial me­dia also ren­ders tra­di­tional opin­ion polls, which rely on call­ing peo­ple with a land line, use­less. Days be­fore the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tions, the poll­sters told the world that Hil­lary Clin­ton had a 90-per­cent chance of win­ning. Pro­fes­sional an­a­lysts and aca­demics all “knew” that she would win for sure. In Hong Kong, the polls for the re­cent Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil elec­tions also did a poor job in pre­dict­ing elec­tion out­comes. It is shame­ful that those who ma­nip­u­lated pub­lic opin­ion with in­ac­cu­rate polls that fa­vored can­di­dates of their choice in the past elec­tion in Hong Kong re­main un­re­pen­tant to this day. More­over, while their polling tech­niques have been in­val­i­dated, they keep on cir­cu­lat­ing er­ro­neous polling data to crit­i­cize and pres­sure the govern­ment.

Elec­tions and po­lit­i­cal move­ments in­deed in­crease the po­lar­iza­tion of a so­ci­ety. In his ac­cep­tance speech, Don­ald Trump, just like Barack Obama eight years ago, called for unity and to heal the di­vi­sions caused by elec­tion cam­paigns. The di­vi­sions in the US to­day are even deeper than eight years ago; the first black pres­i­dent was not able to lessen the racial ten­sions and ri­ots broke out across the coun­try be­cause of gun vi­o­lence. The so­cial rifts on health­care, mar­riage laws and many other is­sues still haunt the world’s largest econ­omy. In Hong Kong, we also des­per­ately need to re­solve and dif­fuse our so­cial con­flicts and face our com­mon chal­lenges to­gether as one. Sadly, it is eas­ier said than done.

It (the in­ter­net) is full of free news con­tent from var­i­ous an­gles; one can eas­ily read them all and get a more com­pre­hen­sive view of the facts. How­ever, al­most no one does that. On the con­trary, most young peo­ple nowa­days not only stick to a sin­gle source for news on the in­ter­net; they also only watch on­line videos in­stead of read­ing ar­ti­cles and com­men­taries.”

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