On Social Media and Political Polarization: Professor Francis Lee’s Speech

Political polarization has become one of the most critical issues in Taiwan society recently. It is also the main research topic of TIGCR (Taiwan Institute for Governance and Communication Research). TIGCR was pleased to have Professor Francis Lee, the Dean of School of Journalism and Communication, the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) to visit TIGCR and deliver lecture at National Chengchi University (NCCU) on October 24.

Prof. Lee’s lecture on “Social Media and Opinion Polarization in Hong Kong” was insightful, which sparked the lively discussion with TIGCR members. In the discussion session, he not only explained the current political polarization in Hong Kong, but shared his observation towards social media.

The core concept of the lecture and discussion led by Lee was the relationship between political polarization and political factors, which mediated by the force of social media. He indicated that the trend of polarization was in line with the political events in Hong Kong. For example, political polarization index had skyrocketed in the period of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Election in 2012, which was the same period when Xi Jinping, the president of China took office. In other aspects of political issues, Lee suggested that protests and movements also served as indicators of political polarization. Hong Kong government adopted counter mobilization in recent years, which would further foster the phenomenon of political polarization. In addition, the tactics and language used by pro-government media or political parties on social media would easily trigger emotional responses, ideological disinhibition, and mundane attack on “core value”, which affect political polarization consequently.

Sharing of political polarization in Hong Kong by Prof. Lee

(Photo credit: TIGCR)

In discussion of how political polarization affects citizens, Lee provided in-depth insights on the issue of echo chamber, cyberbalkanization and incivility respectively. For example, untrue statement such as fake news was a public kind of incivility behavior. As in personal incivility, foul terms would lead to political polarization on controversial issues more severe. He regards these questions as important issues that he is going to explore more about the relationship between political policy, social media, and political polarization in the future. 

Apart from social media, Lee also mentioned the sliding of Global Press Freedom Index of Hong Kong traditional media since 2002. Most of Hong Kong media was interfered by the Chinese authorities, which made media practitioners hard to insist their voice against their supervisors and jeopardized self-censorship of media. However, critical alternative media emerged gradually since 2012, which may convert the phenomenon of political polarization in Hong Kong. With inspiring insights and sharing of political polarization, Lee awarded recognition to the progress made by the TIGCR in the researches of social media and political issues.

Prof. Lee also promised to attend to the international academic conference held by TIGCR in 2019. We are looking forward to corporation in the future, and wish to make contribution for both TIGCR and the Taiwan society. 

Group Photo of Prof. Lee and TIGCR members 

(Photo credit: TIGCR)