Mapping the Status of Political Incivility in Hong Kong's Digital Space: From the Umbrella Movement to the Anti-Extradition Protests

Project: Research project

Project Details


From the 2014 Umbrella Movement to the ongoing anti-extradition bill movement, an increasing number of Hong Kong Internet users have adopted a style of behavior that is abusive and hostile, partially an expression of frustration with what is seen as the government's intransigent disregard for protesters' appeals. This online incivility—which broadly ranges from aggressive comments to hate speech—may possibly corrode reasoned discourse in cyberspace, fuel social climates of hate in public debate, and detract from the broader struggle for democracy and autonomy. Focused mostly on the U.S. or European context, however, prevailing research leaves unexamined uncivil behaviors in Hong Kong's online communities in general and specifically during the recent period. To help overcome these analytical and empirical gaps in our scholarly and practical knowledge, this project investigates in-depth the phenomenon of political incivility in Hong Kong's digital space from a longitudinal perspective (2014-2019). It devises an empirically clearer definition of online incivility, more precisely examines how and why a changing social atmosphere affects uncivil discourse, and more comprehensively delineates practical measures to tackle uncivil online behavior.

Procedurally, this project first develops a more empirically based and methodologically defensible definition of online incivility. We will conduct in-depth interviews with a broad sample of Hong Kong's Internet forum users to devise a community definition of incivility. In our view, research on incivility should consider the perceptual elements of incivility from a user-centered point of view, rather than by arbitrarily applying politeness standards that risk restricting the speech of certain social groups.

Next, computational approaches will be combined with qualitative discourse analysis to investigate the incivility in political discussion on Hong Kong's three most important Internet forums. The aim is to reveal the social and behavioral mechanisms through which the instances of uncivil behaviors at the individual level might possibly generate a self-perpetuating process of ever-growing uncivil and aggressive group behaviors. Using large-scale datasets of uncivil online speech collected from these Internet forums, this project will use a set of advanced data mining techniques to extract behavioral patterns on social media. The broader goal of this project is to understand the dynamics and societal effects of negative discourses and online hostile speech environments.

Finally, the analytical and empirical results of this project will be used to devise more effective mechanisms that help minimize the harm of online uncivil behavior while still allowing for the free flow information and facilitating diverse opinions and political tolerance.
Effective start/end date1/01/2131/12/22


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