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How Technology and Citizen Media Shaped Taiwan's Sunflower Movement

'Let the morning sun lit up democracy. A new day will come.' on a T-shirt shoot in the March 30 protest. Photo by facebook user Wayne Huang. CC BY-NC 2.0

“Let the morning sun lit up democracy. A new day will come.” A T-shirt from the March 30 protest. Photo by Facebook user Wayne Huang. CC BY-NC 2.0

Throughout the three-week occupation of Taiwan's legislative building by protesters angry over a secretly negotiated trade deal with China, citizen media played an important role in keeping the public informed.

Members of the Sunflower Movement set up a number of websites dedicated to the protest and the Cross-Strait Service and Trade Agreement (CSSTA), whose passage by the legislature in mid-March without a clause-by-clause review sparked the occupation. Some worried the trade agreement would make democratic Taiwan vulnerable to political pressure from the communist mainland. 

Thousands of people turned up and protested outside the Legislative Yuan alongside those inside. Half a million citizens also took to the streets to support the protest on March 30.

Protesters left the Legislative Yuan, as the country's legislature is known, on April 10 after the speaker promised to pass legislation monitoring future agreements proposed by the executive branch before deliberating on the current deal. 

Live-streams were available for those who wished to follow along with the occupation. Tang Fong, a tech activist, explained on website 0th Sunflower Digital Camp how they created an online hub to collect all live-streams of the protests and improved the live broadcast system inside the occupied legislature to safeguard the protesters from police violence:

On March 23, at the MoeDict Hackthon, we repurposed the domain name we registered a while ago, g0v.today, to collect all the direct streams for everyone, including the English translation task force.

On March 28, a team from ITRI showed up, saying “there are still blind spots, like in some corridors in the Academia Sinica” [a code name for the legislative building], and helped set up six more cameras and capture videos from the blind spots. NO incident NOR brutal events ever happened after the cameras were up. We appreciated what they’ve done and hence shared much bandwidth.

If it is even 1% due to what we did that few people were injured, and no one went missing, then I think it is worth it.

Police aggression was indeed a reality that protesters faced. On March 23, demonstrators attempted to occupy the Executive Yuan, but were suppressed by riot police with rods and water cannons. Several protesters, doctors and journalists were injured. 

Transparency

As the Taiwanese government did not inform the public about the details of the CSSTA, a number of citizen-initiated websites were created to explain the agreement and its potential impact. Tech blog Cool3c.com highlighted some of the initiatives:

服貿跑馬燈將所有服貿相關新聞直接一行一行排下來,雖然界面上沒那麼好看,但新聞的旁邊還增添了 Facebook 上貼文者的註解,反而更有由下而上的素人評論新聞效果。

CSSTA news ticker [zh] lists CSSTA-related news one by one. Although its interface is not very pretty, the comments besides the news taken from Facebook make it feel close to the common people.

(自己的服貿自己審) 將服貿全文、公聽會逐字稿、產業評估報告全部整合和立法院專案報告全都整理起來。可快速查詢服務貿易協定和你公司的相關性。

(Let us review the CSSTA for ourselves) [zh] summarizes the full text of the CSSTA, transcripts of previous public hearings, evaluations of affected industries, and project reports from the Legislative Yuan. Now it is easy to check out how the CSSTA might affect your company.

國會無雙 [...] 這個網站試題以「播報體育賽事」的方式來代替原本無趣的立法院實況,並在公聽會安排「主播」和「球評」,讓對政治冷感的一般公民可以用非常具娛樂性的方式來親近政治議題,是邁向「政治普及」的重要里程碑。

Our one and the only one congress [zh] […] tries to make the experience of watching real-time broadcasts from the Legislative Yuan similar to the experience of watching sports. They have anchors and critics for the real-time broadcast of public hearings so everyday people who usually don't care about politics can learn about these political issues in an entertaining way. This is an important milestone for “popularized politics”.

To monitor the government and legislature and make sure they fulfilled their promise of setting up a monitoring mechanism for future cross-strait agreements, the tech activist Tang Fong set up a new platform together with her friends:

On March 27, we set up another website, 123.g0v.today, where you can find the phone number of the legislator for your election area. You might call and demand for the legislation [for a cross-strait agreement-monitoring mechanism] before review of the pact proceeds, and invite the legislator to join the camp.

Their g0v server also hosts a calendar for the Legislative Yuan so that citizens can easily know what is going on there.

Appendectomy Project is a similar initiative dedicated to supporting the impeachment of unsuitable legislators. cool3c.com described this website:

這個網站的出現,讓難以理解(或是更精準地說一般人不太關心)的公民罷免權,有了一個很好理解的開始。

The emergence of this website allows citizens to understand their right to recall (which is usually not of concern for most of us).

This website has become a key platform for protesters to keep tabs on lawmakers after the end of the occupation.

Citizen media

The Facebook page of National Taiwan University's E-Forum attracted more than 100,000 followers during the Sunflower Movement because their student reporters covered the protest 24 hours a day from inside and outside the legislature. They explained [zh] how their citizen reporting evolved throughout the protests:

3月20日,十幾位同學拿著自己的手機和筆電、借來的相機和攝影機、以及臨時承租的兩台4G行動基地台,在濟南路上就地開始採訪。從蹲坐在路邊,到莫名進駐了濟南路上的帳篷,擁有了半正式的編輯台;從原本只有十幾名台大新聞所學生參與,到後來共有將近九十名來自政大、師大、交大、東華等各大學同學在各地支援的龐大規模。

On March 20, about ten student reporters brought their cell phones, notebooks, rental cameras, video cameras and 4G mobile base station to Jinan Road and started their interviews. In the beginning, they worked on the roadside, and later they moved to a tent on Jinan Road. At the end, they had a semi-formal newsroom. In the beginning, there were only few students from the Graduate Institute of Journalism of National Taiwan University. At the end, it became a huge workforce composed of around 90 students from National Chengchi University, National Taiwan Normal University and National Dong Hwa University supporting the coverage of the protest in several locations.

Tents outside the parliament building on April 4 2014. Photo by twitter user bratscher. CC BY-NC 2.0

Tents outside the legislative building on April 4, 2014. Photo by Twitter user bratscher. CC BY-NC 2.0

Protest logistics
Technology also helped to facilitate logistics for the protests. cool3c highlighed some of the tools:

神人(由ETBlue發起,眾人編輯)製作的透過mapsengine所製作「佔領立法院地圖」,包括演講台、廁所以及7-11都清楚的標示出來

A masterpiece (initiated by ETBlue and supported by several others) by making use of maps engine to generate a map for #CongressOccupied [zh]. This map marked the podiums, toilets, and convenience stores clearly.

(立院排班表): 使用者可透過 Facebook 的帳號登入,立即瞭解自己的朋友在立法院排班的狀態,自己也可以加入排班,讓朋友間互相提醒。

(Calendar for taking shifts at the Legislative Yuan) [zh]: Users could log in with their Facebook accounts. They could see their friends’ shifts in the Legislative Yuan, and they could sign up and take their shift [as a voluntary security guard]. Friends could use this website to remind each other of their shifts.

flyingV, a crowdfunding platform, was initially set up to raise funds for newspaper advertisement  for the movement. On April 7, VDemocracy.tw was created as an additional fundraising website specifically for social activists. Another Internet fundraising project was hosted by zeczec.com to publish a photobook for the Sunflower Movement.

Betty Eric explained how protesters organized themselves despite their differences: 

在學運團體裡頭,這個「共同的通訊協定」就是群體共同的意志和行動方法。我們可以觀察到,太陽花學運出現的幾個團體平常各自獨立,目標和訴求也不盡相同,但是反對黑箱服貿的意志相同(通訊協定相同),只要微調系統設定,兩個子網很容易就可以連上。
網路內部意見有重大分岐的時候,比較可能的是分割網路,保持各自意見的純粹性,而不是因人而改變初衷。[…]網狀民主的不妥協性高,也因此太陽花的僵局可能比以往的運動拉得更長。

In this student movement, the protocol is defined by their determination and their tools. We can see that they used to belong to different independent groups that have different goals and demands. Nevertheless, they have the same protocol: against the “black box” secretive process behind the CSSTA. As a result, after some minor adjustments, these groups can be easily connected to each other.
While there is major divergence in their opinions, what they likely do is separating their network. Therefore, they can keep their own opinions instead of changing their original goals. […] This kind of Internet democracy does not compromise easily. As a result, the conflict between the government and the protesters might be elongated.

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