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Rethinking mediated political engagement: social media ambivalence and disconnective practices of politically active youths in Hong Kong

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Social media have been widely credited for facilitating young people’s political engagement, most notably by providing a conducive platform for political expression. There has been comparatively little attention, however, to the possible pitfalls for young people when they engage in politics on social media. In this study, we seek to redress the overemphasis on the strengths and connectivity of social media by attending to how young people negotiate their drawbacks and disconnectivity. Through in-depth interviews with young participants of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement, we examine the choices and motives regarding mediated (non-)participation among a group of politically active youths. Our findings revealed that these young people’s social media ambivalence emerged from the major participatory experience. Despite their active and open informational sharing and political expression on social media alongside their in-person participation during the eventful protest, many young participants became wary of such expressive use owing to their perceptions of de-energization, disconnectedness, and disembodiment. Instead of completely withdrawing from political activities on social media, these politically inclined and technologically savvy youths embraced “disconnective practices” – passive engagement (lurking), selective expression (moderation and exposure-limitation), and offline participation (embodied collective action) – to avoid the overwhelming, fractious, and inauthentic conditions of mediated participation.

Keywords: Hong Kong; Social media; disconnection; media ambivalence; political participation; youth

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: School of Communication, Hong Kong Baptist University, Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong; 2: Department of Communication Studies, Hong Kong Baptist University, Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong

Publication date: April 2, 2020

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