So This is How Liberty Dies…
When You Are Told to Choose Your Friends More Wisely While Many of Them are Being Web-mobbed
We live in a post truth world.
But it was only after seeing what happened to my friends on the weekend had I really learnt what this kind of world really is.
NTU House of Cards
It all began when I was about to graduate from university. Since then, my previous university has been playing house of cards for nearly a year.
First there was the former principal, who was accused of copying results of others in his own research. For that, he resigned last June.
This was already a enormous scandal during my last semester of study. But what happened next during the principal election was more unbelievable.
After a nominee was elected by the election committee, it was revealed that he has been a member of a board in a company, which, coincidentally (?), held one vote in the election committee.
Between January and April, the student parliament had demanded for a proper response from the university.
The higher ranks of the school denied every chance of handling the issue by themselves. In a board meeting in late March, the majority refused to discuss any of the proposals the students handed in.
After a period of inaction, the ministry of education finally decided to denounce the election results and asked the university to hold another election with fair and due process in late April.
Then all of a sudden, all those professors and school bureaucrats who supported the nominee suddenly started to care about university democracy.
They asked all the students in Taida to stand up against any external influence that threatened the autonomy of the university.
How ironic and ridiculous. Did the students get to vote for the principal? Why should the students defend an autonomy which they were never part of?
These professors and bureaucrats have long been treating the student community like shit. As a result, few actually followed their call.
How Colleagues Turned into Bitter Rivals
But of those who did stand up and protest the decision made by the ministry of education, members from the department of Chinese literature was the most active. The department even made an announcement to denounce the ministry of education during their meeting!
(Of course there was no say for students in these kinds of meetings. That is the kind of autonomy students were supposed to help their professors defend.)
Not all students from the department agreed with their professors. A friend of mine studies Chinese literature but is also a representative in the student parliament. Therefore he followed the case since the very beginning.
Despite the pressure given by his teachers and peers, he still signed an announcement delivered by the parliament that asked for an immediate re-election of the principal for the best of the campus.
So now he has to confront his own teachers in every class he takes. What’s worse, an important leader from the movement, who is from the same department, publicly condemned and teased him during a rally speech.
I can not imagine how he would live through the remaining semesters, to confront all the people who knew the most and perhaps even once admired a lot.
How the Other Side of Voice was Demonized
The first story was already a tragic, but there was another friend of mine who suffered more.
Since most media portrayed the students as against re-election, some of the representatives in the student parliament decided that they should show up during the protest rally to speak out for the other side of the voice.
That was when tragedy hit. The group of representatives was surrounded and violently abused by some of the participants. My friend was the one who suffered the most severe wound.
After the incident was revealed, not many attention was on the violence itself. Rather, many web mobs started to suspect if my friend was a “crisis actor” hired by the government to stir conflict in the rally.
They mobbed into his personal accounts to find “evidence” proving their conspiracy and also trolled every one of his public posts along the way. They also sent threat messages to him, telling him to stop playing as a victim.
It was the same tactic energy transition skeptics have long applied on people like me, only that it was perhaps a hundred times worse.
During this tide of web-mobbing, many media picked up these conspiracy theories and helped spread the “alternative facts”. I personally saw two of my facebook friends sharing these news and mocked how professional actors have infiltrated the campus.
Sincere Advice: Don’t Get into the Trouble…
When my second friend was being web-mobbed, I expected some of the school’s media clubs to react.
There was one club me and him both attended, which had many members who are currently against the re-election. Among all the media clubs, this was the one I gave most hope in speaking out.
But none did. I waited for the weekend, until I decided to directly ask everyone’s opinion in one of those clubs.
I got one reply:
“You should befriend with those who are appropriate to befriend with, and talk to those who are appropriate to talk to.”
The advice might not mean to be harmful, but that tone of voice that blame the victim first was still quite shocking, especially when the message was delivered in a group that was supposed to promote media literacy.
We spent all those time writing and analyzing how media manipulate people and influence public opinion, and now that one real life case is happening in front of us, we would rather remain silence and even learn to blame the victim first.
So now we live in a world that we should no longer befriend someone who might have the potential to be mobbed because of his/her views on certain issues.
And whenever your friend is in this kind of trouble, the first thing you should be doing is to disconnect yourself from him/her so that you don’t get into trouble.
What a brave new world.
Some Final Thoughts and Alas
Some people say this is merely a political issue. The governing party doesn’t want to let Taida have a principal with rivalry political views.
Meanwhile, the opposition party found this a great opportunity, so they seized the chance and mobilized a rally.
This explains the absurdity and violence during these days to some extent, since those who took a stand after the decision of the ministry of education was made probably never knew what happened before. Most of them aren’t students or alumni of Taida!
You go against re-election because the ministry of education of the evil pro-independent party says so, or you want the nominee to give up in the next election because he probably is a member of the pro-unification gang.
What happened during the election? What does a genuine campus democracy really mean? You actually don’t care.
For those who have followed the issue a while and made much effort to defend due process during this process, there is nothing more pathetic than seeing the entire issue turned into another testing field for both political parties before the upcoming elections of local governors.
For me, though I have not engaged much in this issue, I felt somehow guilty for both of the friends I have just mentioned.
Both of their career in the student government started partly because of me. Though what happened after they became representatives was never my doing, I kept thinking about the same questions these days:
Was I right to ask them to enter the arena of campus politics? Do all of this worth the price?
It is just so unfair. Those who devote the most to public welfare selflessly are mocked and have to apologize for any “misleading” content from their own personal account, and those who bully others physically or in the online world can always get away with it.
When the election was settled in January, I actually felt quite optimistic about Taida’s future. The elected nominee was one of the few to have promised to review the investment of the school. If I could choose, I would rather he didn’t have any controversy and became the principal long ago.
But now, we are witnessing perhaps the most severe civil war Taida has ever experienced. And it probably is far from over.
Real and urgent issues such as divestment is now buried under those void calls for “campus autonomy”. The campus is divided into two, and the division continues to polarize.
But perhaps the worst thing out of this chaos is that we as a society has shown how easy it is to annihilate someone’s reputation and demonize his motives and efforts just because he stands for a cause that does not fit other’s narrative. And when this happens, nobody around him will have the courage to speak out for him.
And this is how liberty dies.