Thursday, April 03, 2014

FB on FB?

One of the projects that I've been working on for the past couple of years has been related to George H. Kerr's writings about Taiwan in the aftermath of the February 28, 1947 Incident (aka 228). If you don't know Kerr, he wrote a book entitled Formosa Betrayed that was published, for a variety of reasons, almost 20 years after the events of 228. I've dug up some information about why that was the case, but I've also been curious about the effects of his earlier activities related to 228--activities like the articles he wrote that were published in Far Eastern Survey in the late 1940s (including an article entitled "Formosa: The March Massacres"), the letters to the editor he wrote to local and national newspapers, the speeches about Taiwan that he gave to various organizations, etc. Besides the Far Eastern Survey articles, in the pre-Internet era those kinds of rhetorical activities (particularly the speeches) seem to have been quite ephemeral, if not in substance at least in effect. (In fact, the publisher of the Far Eastern Survey, the Institute of Pacific Relations, had its reputation smeared during the McCarthy era for an alleged pro-Communist slant.) The only ways I have found out anything about these activities have been through archival searches and reading through his letters. 

So in the past couple of weeks, ever since the student-led occupation of Taiwan's Legislative Yuan began--and especially after the events of March 24--I've had in the back of my mind this question about what the 228 Incident would have been like if George Kerr had had access to social media. In a sense the question is problematic because if Kerr had had access to social media, it's quite probable that the Taiwanese (or the "Formosans," as he liked to call them) would also have had access, and they wouldn't necessarily have needed him to speak for them to the American people. One of things we've seen (those of us who have been watching from abroad, that is) from this Sunflower Movement is that the students and their allies have made extensive use of the Internet and social media to try to make their ideas known to a wider audience. Just yesterday students were answering questions on Reddit in English, for instance. In the early days of the occupation of the Legislative Yuan (LY), a young woman was broadcasting nonstop in English for hours on end on an online video feed. CNN's iReport has also seen its share of video news about the occupation of the LY. Facebook and Twitter have also been used to spread information about the protests. Much of this online material has been produced by the Taiwanese themselves.

But, as Eric Mader Lin wrote recently in the Daily Kos, this story hasn't had much traction with the mainstream US media, and this fact has made me wonder if livestreaming 228 or Formosa Betrayed-esque updates on Facebook would've had much different results than what originally happened without the Internet. Perhaps it would have prevented many of the deaths, which itself would have been no small feat. But in my less optimistic moments, like right now, I feel that perhaps Taiwan is just fated to live--or exist--in the shadow of China (whether that China is the PRC or the once-and-future kingdom of the Chiang dynasty).

I see that The Diplomat also has an editorial on this; while it notes that the Sunflower Movement and its allies managed to organize protests in 21 countries, it concludes on a less optimistic note:
Despite their efforts, foreign media outlets have been slow to pick up the story. Headlines from the New York Times and BBC’s Asia coverage focused instead on the recent anti-PX plant protests in Guangdong. Continuing coverage of the search for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 and the situation in Crimea has seemingly prevented media attention from focusing on the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan.
I'd add, even less optimistically, that even topics like Kate Winslet's wrinkles and the final episode of How I Met Your Mother have had better success with US audiences than the Sunflower Movement.