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
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.”