6 Exploring the Transnational Allure of “Street Democracy” via Twitter based on a Contemporaneous Real-World Case

Shalin Hai-Jew


In the popular massmind, “democracy” seems to mean different things to different people. For some, it is something worth fighting, and demonstrating and dying for. For others, they cannot be bothered to engage in the minimal civil duties of staying informed and voting. This chapter involves the study of 16 contemporaneous social media accounts that were surfaced in a search for “Hong Kong protests” on the Twitter microblogging site to understand expresses senses of “street democracy”. The resulting Tweets were analyzed for topical content, sentiment, and meaning, using a combination of human close reading and computational text analysis (in NVivo 12 Plus). What do the popular senses of “street democracy” around the pro-democracy Hong Kong protests on the Twitter microblogging site a suggest about (1) its meanings to the demonstrators, and then what are some of the implications to (2) strategic and tactical international or external “democratic promotion” in the U.S. context abroad generally and towards Hong Kong specifically?



Key Words

Street Democracy, External Democratic Promotion, International Democratic Promotion, Hong Kong Protests 2019, Anti-Extradition Movement, Twitter Microblogging Platform




From March 2019 through the present, initially tens of thousands but later hundreds of thousands of protesters amassed in Hong Kong to make various political demands of both their government and that of the simultaneously remote and close-in government of Beijing. This former British colony returned to China on July 1, 1997, under a “one country, two systems” concept, with a fair amount of relative autonomy for this capitalist enclave, partially to protect its various affordances as a center of global finance and trade. The mass demonstrations were sparked by a proposed extradition law for those accused of serious crimes in Hong Kong to be tried in mainland China. The “Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019” was thought by many to enable Beijing to quash political dissent in Hong Kong (2019 Hong Kong Extradition Bill, Oct. 23, 2019). The ostensible original case for this proposed legislation was that of 19-year-old Chan Tong-kai, accused of murdering his pregnant girlfriend Poon Hiu-wing in Taiwan and then fleeing to Hong Kong in February 2018 (Tan, Oct. 24, 2019; 2019 Hong Kong Extradition Bill, Oct. 23, 2019).

Initial demands were for the withdrawal of the proposed legislation. The bill was suspended June 15, 2019. Over time, five additional demands were made by this alleged “leaderless” movement (more so with anonymized leaders): “complete withdrawal of the extradition bill from the legislative process” (achieved October 23, 2019); retraction of the “riot” label on the demonstrations; “release and exoneration of arrested protesters”; “establishment of an independent commission of inquiry into police conduct and use of force during the protests”; and the “resignation of Carrie Lam and the implementation of universal suffrage for Legislative Council and Chief Executive elections” (2019 Hong Kong Protests, Oct. 24, 2019). Given the various levers of power and the political realities, each of the five points entail varying levels of practical difficulties. Whatever decisions are made will set some precedence and expectations for future actions. While police have used force, including causing a blinding of one demonstrator in one eye and shooting a protestor with live ammunition, there has been no major mass-death crackdown (as there was on June 3- 4, 1989 in the Tiananmen Square Massacre in Beijing, by the Chinese government’s military). While journalists may be writing an early or first draft of history, this work is focused on a much lesser element of the protests. Other accounts suggest a longer history of Hong Kong advocacy for democratic rights, going back from the early 1950s (Democratic development in Hong Kong, Oct. 23, 2019), when this “fragrant harbor” was still a British colony of linked islands and peninsulas. Some online reports suggest how to support Hong Kong citizens “in their defense of democratic values” (“Democratic crisis in Hong Kong: Recommendations for policymakers,” 2019). Hong Kong is seen to have experienced a decade of democratic declines and “deteriorating human rights conditions” through 2019 (“Democratic crisis in Hong Kong: Recommendations for policymakers,” 2019, p. 3). As yet, no final outcome has been determined except for a formal retraction of the original proposed legislation.

At the heart of the movement are calls for more democracy and human rights. “Democracy” has some baseline meanings in the political science literature, including “a form of government in which all constituents are able to participate by standing for election to public office and electing others to represent their interests” and includes “the right to challenge and/or call to account an existing government for actions that violate public trust” (Shirazi, Ngwenyama, & Morawczynski, 2010, p. 22). In a democracy, citizens have access to accurate information, from their government and from a powerful free press, so citizens may be sufficiently informed for accurate decision-making. In another sense, democracy is “a framework that seeks to resolve conflicts in society via consensus on core principles that limit the power of government and empower citizens” (Ariely, April 2015, p. 629). A “root meaning” of democracy is that power is held by “ordinary people” (or “government by the people”) (Alexander & Welzel, Apr. 2011, p. 271). Core elements of a basic democracy include (free and fair) “elections and political liberties” (Carothers, 2009, p. 5). Civil rights protect individuals against government oppression, and they ensure equal rights among people regardless of their gender (Ariely, April 2015, p. 633) and other factors. Democracy is seen as “a system of processing conflicts in which outcomes depend on what participants do, but no single force controls what occurs and its outcomes” (Democracy, Oct. 23, 2019). Here, power is not in the hands of individuals but more in process and in laws. In some cases, democracy is packaged also with the “free market”. A crowd-sourced encyclopedia reads: “No consensus exists on how to define democracy, but legal equality, political freedom and rule of law have been identified as important characteristics.” (Democracy, Oct. 23, 2019)

If democracy is aspirational, how it is actualized and operationalized matters to its citizenry. Within countries, there may be differing senses of how well the democratic government is functioning (Ariely, April 2015, pp. 632 – 633). In the popular massmind, there may be varying understandings of “street democracy” in a public and folk sense. The protests are widely understood as anti-government ones—adversarial, occasionally violent, and a direct challenge to the legitimacy and limits of the governments of Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China. Widespread images of the demonstrations show the waving of various flags, including American ones. While a number of social media applications have been linked to the protests, the Twitter microblogging platform is an important part, with some participants using it for broadcasting on-ground information to news sources and others around the world and narrowcasting among smaller groups. The communications here are both strategic and tactical. They enable mediated situational awareness and a sense of immediacy.

The research questions involve multiple parts:

What do the popular senses of “street democracy” around the pro-democracy Hong Kong protests on the Twitter microblogging site a suggest about (1) its meanings to the demonstrators, and then what are some of the implications to (2) strategic and tactical international or external “democratic promotion” in the U.S. context abroad generally and towards Hong Kong specifically?

The software used to extract the information was NVivo 12 Plus, and more specifically, the NCapture web app. NodeXL was also used along with Excel for some data captures and data visualizations. Online tools used include Wikipedia, Google Books Ngram Viewer, Flickr, and other sources.

Review of the Literature

Historically, democracy has been “a deeply contested concept” (Kurki, 2010, p. 362) and unpopular “with both political leaders and philosophers” but in the 20th century become “the world’s new universal religion” (Corcoran, 1983, p. 14, as cited in Kurki, 2010, p. 362). For many, democracy has “ideational dominance” as a desired form of governance. It carries the promise of both individual and group-level actualization (enabled by a non-interventionist non-intrusive government): full human self-expression, full human voice, and individualistic self-determination. Democracy is a form of what Walter James Shepard calls a “verbal stereotype,” a concept that is unthinkingly positive:

It arouses at once a favorable reaction in the popular mind. It is surrounded with an aura of sanctity. It immediately suggests the glorious achievement of independence by the American patriots of 1776. It calls forth visions of heroes such as Jefferson and Lincoln. It evokes as its antithesis concepts of despotism, of dictatorship, of absolute monarchy. To be a democrat is to be on the side of angels…It has constituted a basic faith which has oriented our thought and action in every direction. It has been the religion by which we have lived and for which we have been willing to die. To question the sacred principle of democracy has been to lay a profane hand upon the Ark of the Covenant. (Shepard, July 1935, p. 94)

With the widespread adoption of information and communications technology (ICT), citizens have experienced “rising aspirations, discontent with government, mistrust of government, and political apathy” and so put pressure on governments to improve their services (Lee-Geiller & Lee, 2019, p. 208). Advancing democracy is about increasing efficiencies in the provision of government services, with open and informational transparency, service quality, and the encouragement of citizen engagement (“collaboration, deliberation, political efficacy”) (Lee-Geiller & Lee, 2019, p. 221). The presence of “mobile telephones, SMS, and the Internet” also directly affect political activity (Shirazi, Ngwenyama, & Morawczynski, 2010, p. 21).

“…various states and international organizations, the United States, the European Union, and the UN” have advocated for democracy’s spread around the world (Kurki, 2010, p. 362). “External” and “international” democracy promotion refers to various endeavors to transition autocratic states to ones where the power is shared among the citizens. One researcher writes:

Democratization is a broad, irregular process of replacing authoritarian regimes with rule-bound competitive political systems. It is not a universal historical sequence. Many countries mix major elements of undemocratic and democratic practice. (Goldsmith, Fall 2008, p. 124)

“Democratization” necessarily depends “on the relations between domestic elites and the demos” (the common populace) (Beichelt, 2012, p. 4). External democracy promotion involves the support and promotion of democracy in other countries, involving support for a free press, support for voter rights, support for safe voting, fair voting (such as through international observers), selective election boycotts, promotion of the rule of law, promotion of civil rights, protection of various minorities, protection of populations against genocide, educational efforts, financial aid, technical aid, and other endeavors. “Strategic incumbents” who strive to retain power in non-democratic spaces may use various manipulations to forestall free and fair elections, such as engaging in a variety of strategic manipulations with intimidation, tampering with voter lists, releasing disinformation, deploying covert surveillance, and boycotting opposition parties (Beaulieu & Hyde, 2009, p. 401).

It is thought that some cultures are more amenable to democracy than others. Some aspects are historically and politically contingent: “Former British colonies were considerably more democratic than other countries immediately following independence, but subsequent democratic convergence has largely eliminated these differences in the post-Cold War period.” (Lee & Paine, 2019, p. 487) It is generally thought that societies may be in various states of readiness for transitioning from autocracy to democracy or to deepen democracy, depending on the readiness of the population, the social pluralism in society [“a large and diverse civil society” with cultural diversity (Bunce, Winter 2008, p. 25)], “stable state borders” (Bunce, Winter 2008, p. 25), the state of development (Feng & Zak, April 1999, p. 162) and the economy, and the state of the extant government (and its anti-democracy efforts), among others. Some have found that hearts and minds of a citizenry are less important than having working democratic institutions first in order to earn the confidence of the populace. Legitimacy attitudes towards democracy “are significantly shaped by the prior institutionalization of democracy” (Fails & Pierce, Mar. 2010, p. 174). Reaching into another society to promote a form of government is an exercise in power (Wolff, 2015), with the attendant moral and other implications. (A common accusation is that Western powers are engaging in “imperialism” and a misuse of “hegemonic power” in “interfering” in another sovereign nation’s politics. This is a framing of one of the counter-narratives.) Others have argued for the importance of understanding “the preferences of the target publics” (Obama, 2006, pp. 315 – 317, as cited in Kurki, 2010, p. 363). The motives and end goals for democratic promotion are also relevant (Wolff & Wurm, 2011, p. 79).

Coercively insisting on democracy may be counter-productive and unaligned with democratic principles (Goldsmith, Fall 2008, p. 147). Also, nation-states are in flux, and “democratic backsliding” may also occur in some cases…and democratic institutionalization in others. Democracy, as all forms of government, is revocable. There are different brands of international democracy promotion, like an “EU” type or an “American” type, depending on leadership, policies, resourcing, bureaucratic elements, and other factors. As an incentive to democratic reforms to neighboring countries, the EU has offered “partnership and cooperation,” something short of membership which has many strictures (Schimmelfennig & Scholtz, 2008, p. 187); EU leaders apply “political conditionality” to engagement (p. 190).

Modernization theory is interpreted by some to suggest that at a particular point in development, a country may convert to democracy. One authoring team writes, “With sufficient growth, nondemocratic governments almost always become democracies…” albeit with “significant variation across countries” (Feng & Zak, April 1999, p. 162). One model suggests that “the level of per capita income, education, the distribution of wealth, and the strength of preferences for political rights and civil liberties” are critical factors in this democratic transition (Feng & Zak, April 1999, p. 162). Democracy is thought to arise from “all sorts of conditions” (Munck, 2015, p. 97). Globalization itself, with the encouragement of transnational interactions, is also thought to promote democracy. Transnational relations between governmental and non-governmental actors and other exchanges (cultural, academic) are seen to promote democratization (Schimmelfennig & Scholtz, 2008, pp. 192 – 193).

However the transition works, the European Union as a group of nations, the U.S., and Western powers have all engaged in democratic promotion to help processes along. Having fellow democratic societies may reduce the costs of transactions because of some level of built in trust (Lektzian & Souva, Feb. 2001) and international cooperation. The EU’s uses of functional cooperation and integration with EU regulations is seen to create a “ring of friends” (Freyburg & Lavenex, 2018, p. 1) and expand the EU’s sphere of influence. A named strategy of the EU has been to expand its influence for its own political stability.

An “illiberal democracy” (or a “partial democracy”) may be a transitional state towards democracy or some other form of governance (“Illiberal democracy,” Oct. 13, 2019); a “liberal democracy” (or a “Western democracy”) is a more mature-state government with many of the bureaucratic elements that enable democratic civil freedoms for citizens and “universal suffrage” which allows all to vote (“Liberal democracy,” Oct. 23, 2019). There is a “big tent” approach in its definition:

A liberal democracy may take various constitutional forms as it may be a constitutional monarchy (such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Japan, Netherlands, Norway, Spain and the United Kingdom) or a republic (such as France, Germany, India, Italy, Ireland and the United States). It may have a parliamentary system (such as Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Israel, Ireland, Italy and the United Kingdom), a presidential system (such as Indonesia and the United States) or a semi-presidential system (such as France and Romania). (“Liberal democracy,” Oct. 23, 2019).

In the “hybrid zone” of partial democracies, between autocracy and “fully effective democracy,” the “ineffective” democracies fail to enforce the “rule of law” (Alexander & Welzel, Apr. 2011, p. 271). Democracy is not an overnight achievement but thought to advance in a gradual manner, with differing degrees of human rights granted depending on the state of that democracy (Alexander & Welzel, Apr. 2011, p. 273). Others have observed mixed political systems, with “semi-democratic” political systems (Goldsmith, Fall 2008, p. 124).

There are various conceptualizations of types of democracy, based on “a pluralism of governing structures” and differing “values” and instantiations in “time, space, and language” (Types of democracy, Oct, 23, 2019). There are different stages of democracies. Several thousand adjectives have been applied to the term “democracy” (Types of democracy, Oct. 23, 2019). Some of the diversities of democracies may be seen in the article-article network around “Types_of_democracy” on Wikipedia (Figure 1). As a side note, one uncited source suggests that there is “Confucian democracy,” and other works suggest “democracy with Chinese characteristics.” Terms can be defined in various ways.


“Types_of_democracy” Article-Article Network of Outlinks at One Degree on Wikipedia (horizontal sine wave)
This graph shows an article-article network from the “Types_of_democracy” article in Wikipedia.

Figure 1: “Types_of_democracy” Article-Article Network of Outlinks at One Degree on Wikipedia (horizontal sine wave)


Various components of a society may inform about the state of democracy in a particular polity. Freedom House, an organizational advocate for democracy, points to democratic norms, including “elections, term limits for executives, freedom of expression, rights of migrants, safety of expatriates, and (protection of peoples against) ethnic cleansing” (“Freedom in the World 2019: Democracy in Retreat,” 2019). The idea of the depth of democracy may be more complex than a “tick the boxes” approach based on predefined elements “in democracy promoters’ guidance documents” (Kurki, 2010, p. 380).

Journalism plays an important role in a democracy. In one direction, journalism enables a populace to be informed; in the other, journalism enables people’s voices to be heard “in the chambers of power” (“A new journalism for democracy…,” Feb 1, 2005). One important role of journalists in a democracy is to explain the reasons for protest for deeper understandings among the larger populace and polity (Myers, Jan. 2019). One risk is to have insufficient diversity to inform the judgment of what should be covered as news (Myers, Jan. 2019). Independent journalism helps mitigate some of the risks of having to depend on “political insiders for content” and from “the drive to attract an audience” (Schudson, Spring 2013). If journalism focuses on the wrong issues (“sideshows”), such distractions may be negative for democratic rule (Myers, Jan. 2019). Journalistic stewardship should be “loosely defined, decentralized, multiform, and open to invention” (Schudson, Spring 2013). By definition, in a democracy (and elsewhere), there are inherent tensions between the press and elected officials.

Social media enable citizen journalists to report from their respective local spaces about any number of issues but without the professional overlay of editorial oversight, fact checking, and other resources. A new phenomenon of “democratic journalism” enables the voting up or voting down of stories on social news sharing sites and discussion boards (“Democratic journalism,” Dec. 26, 2018), infusing a sense of populism into news consumption. The effectiveness of such votes depends in part on the wisdom of the crowd and their sophistication as news consumers.

In answer to the question of whether “international democracy promotion” works, one researcher offers a complex equivocation: it depends on “how we define democracy promotion and its objectives, and on which particular approaches, methods or tools…used to promote democracy” (Burnell, 2007, p. iv).

Practical benefits to democracy

For all the romanticized senses of democracy, there are empirical reasons for the advocacy of democracy as governance. Natural resource-rich countries, “more vulnerable to rent-seeking behavior,” tends to better protect those resources against corruption when they are democracies (Neudorfer, 2018, p. 175). Democratic institutions, along with “cultural values of nonviolence and equality,” has been found to lead to lower homicide rates and violent crime (Piccone, Sept. 2017, p. 1). [“Strong autocracies” also tend to have lower homicide rates (Piccone, Sept. 2017, p. 1).] Democracies offer mechanisms for people to achieve “social compromise” around contentious issues (Zhen, 2006, p. 1).

In a democracy, citizens are expected to engage in their civic duties, and their contributions stand to benefit the polity, including:

(a) the construction of citizenship, (b) the strengthening of practices of participation, (c) the strengthening of responsive and accountable states, and (d) the development of inclusive and cohesive societies. (Gaventa & Barrett, 2012, p. 2399)

On the down side, some of the freedoms of democratic societies enable some advancing of hate agendas under the guise of free speech (Weinrib, 1991).

Generally, liberal-democracy was seen as the winning dominant organizing governance approach post-Cold War, with the fall of the Berlin Wall (November 1991) and the dissolution of the former Soviet Union (December 1991). the “liberal-democracy promotion agenda” is seen as an extension of the George W. Bush era, post 9/11 (Hobson, Oct. – Dec. 2009, p. 384). Researchers have studied the “transatlantic divide over democracy promotion,” with EU members suspicious that the U.S. is using such endeavors as cover for U.S. military action. One researcher writes:

In his January 2005 inaugural speech, President George W. Bush placed democracy promotion at the center of his second-term agenda. Yet, with no budget or strategy offered in the days or weeks that followed, Europeans grew increasingly cynical. Given the shifting rationales for the war in Iraq emanating from the White House, it would be understandable if European leaders and the broader European public remained highly suspicious of democracy promotion, interpreting it as a repackaged commitment to the unilateral use of force as well as justification for a war and occupation that were not going as smoothly as expected. (Kopstein, 2006, p. 85)

While there is agreement on democracy promotion, the methods for its advent are a focus (Kopstein, 2006, p. 86). In a complex world, efforts towards promoting democracy may involve blowback and unintended effects and may be inefficacious. There may be paradoxical effects of democracy promotion that may end up strengthening authoritarian governance (Durac & Cavatorta, 2009). Researchers explore various policy interventions to better understand the effects. In terms of “norm entrepreneurship” and international democratic promotion as a form of foreign policy, various researchers have penned policy papers, policy brochures, and working papers about how to most effectively promote democracy abroad. Some approaches involve working through target countries’ “transnationally-oriented elites” to bring about political change towards democracy. The in-between phases may be risky to international security (Goldsmith, Fall 2008, p. 120). Transitional phases from autocracy to democracy may involve periods of political instability and devolutions to violence.

Aid-dependent states are thought to be influenced from within more than without in terms of democracy transitions. Further, there may be unintended consequences by external development donors, with empirical observations that “the incorporation of donors’ formal and informal institutions into the supported political system, and the dense interaction between donors and local actors during democracy promotion, are likely to undermine democratization in aid-dependent states” (Leininger, Mar. 2010, p. 63). Nation-states experience leeriness about receiving Western aid because of the sense that they may come with strings attached (Carothers, Mar. – Apr. 2006). There are different flavors of democracy promotion based on the particular states and contexts (Jonavicius, March 2008). Some efforts of democracy promotion are achieved through the guise of international education (Saltman, 2006). One summary approach suggests the following methods: by “coercion, conditionality, persuasion, socialization” at the macro level based on case analysis (Beichelt, 2012, p. 1).

Exploring the Transnational Allure of “Street Democracy” via Twitter based on a Contemporaneous Real-world Case

Social media offer some insights on what “street democracy” may look like. On Google’s Search engine, the autocomplete for “democratic” involves the following topics (in descending order): “republic, leadership, deficit, society, peace theory, party, process, governance, transition, (and) leadership style.” In the Google Books Ngram Viewer, “democracy” is the most popular of the other common types of governance (Figures 2 and 3). In the first figure, it ranks highest among a search in a mass digital / digitized book corpora among “democracy, republic, communism, autocracy, oligarchy, theocracy, (and) fascism” and in the latter, among “anarchy, aristocracy, bureaucracy, capitalism, colonialism, communism, democracy, federalism, feudalism, kleptocracy, meritocracy, military, dictatorship, monarchy, oligarchy, plutocracy, republicanism, socialism, theocracy, totalitarianism, tribalism” (but behind “military” which is not uniquely identified to a governance type in this query.


“democracy, republic, communism, fascism, oligarchy, autocracy, theocracy” Mentions over Time in Formal Published Books (Google Books Ngram Viewer)
Google Books Ngram Viewer’s graph shows various popularity of terms related to governance over time in the English corpus of books.

Figure 2: “democracy, republic, communism, fascism, oligarchy, autocracy, theocracy” Mentions over Time in Formal Published Books (Google Books Ngram Viewer)


“anarchy, aristocracy, bureaucracy, capitalism, colonialism, communism, democracy, federalism, feudalism, kleptocracy, meritocracy, military, dictatorship, monarchy, oligarchy, plutocracy, republicanism, socialism, theocracy, totalitarianism, tribalism” Mentions over Time in Formal Published Books (Google Books Ngram Viewer)
This visual shows a range of types of governance mentioned over time in a mass book corpus in English.

Figure 3: “anarchy, aristocracy, bureaucracy, capitalism, colonialism, communism, democracy, federalism, feudalism, kleptocracy, meritocracy, military, dictatorship, monarchy, oligarchy, plutocracy, republicanism, socialism, theocracy, totalitarianism, tribalism” Mentions over Time in Formal Published Books (Google Books Ngram Viewer)


In a related tags network around social imagery, on Flickr, a “democracy” network at 1.5 degrees results in two groups of related tags. Group 1, the left block, shows references to target countries with long traditions of democracy and some with histories of democratic promotion. Group 2 involves an American focus. (Figure 4)


“Democracy” Related Tags Network on Flickr (1.5 deg.)
This network graph shows a related tags network related to the “democracy” tag for user-shared social imagery shared on Flickr.

Figure 4: “Democracy” Related Tags Network on Flickr (1.5 deg.)


Social accounts around “Hong Kong protests” on Twitter

In many ways, Hong Kong is an interesting ground zero for studying advances to democracy in an age of social media since it is an international city with its citizens abroad and many allies around the world. Twitter is a common space for its peoples given the commonality of English and Chinese as foremost languages, especially among the younger generations. While encrypted apps have been used in the demonstrations for coordination (“Mesh” and “Telegram,” according to press reports), Twitter enables outreach to a worldwide audience. As such, it may be a useful platform to analyze the concept of democracy as a street or common public concept. The communications also provide a type of cover for action. For the demonstrators, the messaging is that they are non-violent, peaceful, and righteous, in their requests. [For the Hong Kong police, it is that they are maintaining public order against rioters and ensuring the functioning of the city. For the Hong Kong government, it is that they are staying within the lines of law.] Will the demonstrations dwindle? Will a third-party mediate? Will Hong Kong government blink? Will Beijing step in? At the time of the writing, there is not yet a clear trajectory.

To conduct the research, 16 social accounts were identified in Twitter based on a search of “Hong Kong protests.” Most of the accounts were live and focused on the issue of the 2019 protests. A few were from 2014 and reactivated for the 2019 protests. All of the microblogging data were captured on the same day, albeit in a rate-limited way, given the limits of the Twitter API (application programming interface). (Table 1 and Figure 5) Several seem focused around civil rights.






#HKResist Fight for Hong Kong



Hong Kong

Joined June 2019








Hong Kong

Joined June 2019





Democracy for Hong Kong



United Kingdom


Joined June 2019





Fight for Freedom, Stand for Hong Kong



Hong Kong

Joined Nov. 2017





Freedom Hong Kong



Hong Kong

Joined June 2019





Global Solidarity HK



Hong Kong and everywhere

Joined Sept. 2014





HK Demo Now



Hong Kong


Joined Sept. 2014





HK Protestors Share Channel



Hong Kong

Joined Dec. 2018





Hong Kong – Be Water

(volunteers who curate media material for “current civil rights movement in HK”)



Joined July 2019





Hong Kong Free Press



Hong Kong

Joined Mar. 2015





Hong Kong Protest



Hong Kong

Joined Oct. 2014





Hong Kong Protest News



Hong Kong

Joined July 2019





Hong Kong Protests 2019



Feb. 2018





Hong Kong Watch




Joined Oct. 2017





Hong Kong World City



Hong Kong

Joined Sept. 2014





Progressive Lawyers Group



Hong Kong

Joined May 2017





Table 1: Selected Social Accounts from “Hong Kong Protests” Search


Landing Pages of Respective Twitter Accounts related to Hong Kong Democracy (Oct. 23, 2019)
This visual shows the landing pages of the various Twitter microblogging site accounts used in this study.

Figure 5: Landing Pages of Respective Twitter Accounts related to Hong Kong Democracy (Oct. 23, 2019)


The geographical maps of the various social networks surrounding the target social accounts show mostly global distributions of members except for two, which are zoomed into particular locales, which visually look to be Guangzhou in one and the East Indian subcontinent in the other. (Figure 6) Given the mass and political power of the People’s Republic of China, perhaps where Hong Kong goes, so goes other regions, which may explain the nervousness in response to Beijing’s power and reach.



Locational Maps of Social Networks of Respective Twitter Accounts
This visual shows the respective locational maps of the social networks of the respective Twitter accounts used in this study.

Figure 6: Locational Maps of Social Networks of Respective Twitter Accounts


A close-in reading of the microblogging messages shows a focus on various hashtag campaigns: #FightForFreedomStandWithHongKong, #StandwithHK, #HongKongProtests, #DisbandHKPolice, #OccupyHongKong, #OccupyHK, #OpenFuture, #hkprotests, #FreeHongKong

#antiELABhk (against the proposed extradition law), and #FreedomHK. After the Hong Kong government made mask-wearing illegal, there were calls to fight that decision: #AntiMaskLaw. There are generic hashtag labels: #HK, #HongKong, #HongKongers, and #China. There are clear messages to fight “police abuses” and “escalating police brutality & retaliation.” There are messages to control against demonstrator actions which are undesirable, such as one calling out Chinese tourists who “destroyed Lennon Wall” and others decrying “property damage.” There are some accused of “a vicious attack” on demonstrators. One message clarifies that the demonstrations are not “a separatist movement.” Various URLs are shared pointing to articles and video hosted off of the microblogging platform.

In one message, another is encouraged to “speak freely.” There are also countervailing messages advising caution. One Tweet warns that the Internet could be shut off. (The subtext: Consider Plan B or C.) Another message cites a “fanatic” by name who “isn’t real…” (So there is a sense of there being persons who are sending out false messages in the social networks.)

Some communicators refer to promises enshrined in the time of handover of H.K. from the colonial power Britain back to China in 1997. “Beijing” is referred to in the context of “worrisome escalations” and “PLA tanks.” There is the threat of “disappearing dissidents.”

In terms of the autocoding of the main topics in the set, the main ideas include the following: police, https, protest, riot, riot police, chinese, gas, and law (with related sub-topics). (Figures 7 and 8)


Autocoded Themes from the Combined Twitter Microblogging Accounts
This treemap diagram shows autocoded themes from the combined Twitter microblogging accounts used in this study.

Figure 7: Autocoded Themes from the Combined Twitter Microblogging Accounts


The defense of the demonstrators seem to be a major concern, with “police” as a large topical node (Figure 8).


A 3D Cluster Chart based on Word Frequency from Tweetsets
This visual shows word frequencies of common terms in the combined Tweetstreams.

Figure 8: A 3D Cluster Chart based on Word Frequency from Tweetsets

Figure 9 shows the mapping the “long tail” in the Tweetsets showed some single-mentions of some topics.


Exploring the Long Tail in the Combined “Hong Kong Protests” Tweetsets (< top-1,000 most frequent identified terms)
This visual shows topics that are discussed only once or twice in the Tweets…in a long tail in this Pareto chart.

Figure 9: Exploring the Long Tail in the Combined “Hong Kong Protests” Tweetsets (< top-1,000 most frequent identified terms)


An extraction of a “democracy” word tree, there are mentions of various tycoons either speaking up or not to support the demonstrators. One message highlights multiple international disagreements with Beijing, involving “Tibetans, Uyghurs and Falun Gong” (the third is a religious group with spinoff ideas around Buddhism). In the same Tweets as “democracy,” there are mentions of “civil liberties” and “American values.” There are arguments for “essential values.” The social accounts are used to list various persons arrested, those sent to various named hospitals, and others. There are inspiring quotes for famous people. In some, supporters are thanked. Some human rights lawyers are mentioned. Some crowd-funding opportunities are also mentioned. Some of the messaging reads to be racist references. Others respond that “intolerance is fugly” (“fuck ugly”), suggesting various pushback using social media terms. (Figure 10) In terms of the democracy word tree, some of the main #hashtag campaigns and topics may be seen. The “https” was added to the stopwords list.



A Zoomed-in View of the “Democracy” Word Tree from the Twitter Datasets (and a zoomed-out view to the right)
“Democracy” is highly referenced in the Tweetsets.

Figure 10: A Zoomed-in View of the “Democracy” Word Tree from the Twitter Datasets (and a zoomed-out view to the right)


A Word Cloud from the “Democracy” Word Tree
This word cloud shows proxemic terms used in close relation to “democracy” in the combined Tweetsets.

Figure 11: A Word Cloud from the “Democracy” Word Tree


A word tree based on “民主”(Minzhu), which means “democracy” in Chinese results in a large word tree that also suggests participatory interest beyond youth. (Figure 12) In various press accounts, the inclusiveness and intergenerational nature of the demonstrators has been noted.


The “民主” Word Tree from the Twitter Datasets
This word tree shows democracy references in simplified Chinese.

Figure 12: The “民主” Word Tree from the Twitter Datasets


The various social accounts had different focuses in terms of sentiment, what is seen as positive and what negative. (Figure 13)


Variances of Sentiment across the Tweetsets
Machine-coded sentiment varies across the Tweetsets.

Figure 13: Variances of Sentiment across the Tweetsets


To summarize, the coded topics seen as positive vs. negative (sentiment treated as a binary) may be seen in Figure 14. One clear difference is that there is more complexity in the “very positive” and “moderately positive” text sets as compared to the “very negative” and “moderately negative” sets. Clearly, the points of friction and clashes with police is seen as very negative.


Autocoded Top-level and Related Sub-topics of the Positive vs. Negative Sentiment Sets
The topical focuses of the positive vs. negative sentiment sets vary.

Figure 14: Autocoded Top-level and Related Sub-topics of the Positive vs. Negative Sentiment Sets


In terms of the topics that involve high sentiment (vs. neutral text), those clearly involved clashes with law enforcement (Figure 15).

Word Frequency Word Cloud of the Sentiment Set
The topics that bring out human sentiment (vs. sentiment-neutral topics) may be seen here…with a lot of passion around the police and #freedoms.

Figure 15: Word Frequency Word Cloud of the Sentiment Set


Another social media tool involves the uses of mass search data. Google Correlate enables users to choose a target search term and location and time frequency in order to see what other search terms correlate with that original search. It is more than mechanics. The idea is that searches who pursue a particular term in a particular time pattern is trying to learn more about an in-world phenomenon, and correlated search terms may be suggestive of associations in the massmind. A comparison between the “US” and “China” in their respective senses of “democracy” do show a difference. For the U.S., the focus seems to be more about mechanics and the developed levers of governance, academic research and study, personages and thinkers (such as for women’s rights), a lived sense of constitutional democracy, and even a reference to the historical Greeks. For “China,” the related search terms seem more remote and diffuse. (Table 2)


United States China
0.8318 on democracy 0.8495 political
0.8282 political 0.8391 popular
0.8223 ideals 0.8322 words
0.8193 demographic 0.8278 examples
0.8151 american politics 0.8277 purpose
0.8151 constitutional 0.8271 statement
0.8049 demography 0.824 what is a
0.7999 political map 0.8221 reading
0.7921 fall of rome 0.822 population of
0.792 of the us 0.8215 writing
0.7919 democratic countries 0.8214 students
0.7918 population distribution 0.8207 issues
0.7909 government branches 0.8205 speech
0.7903 comparing 0.8198 modern
0.7902 democracies 0.8197 quote
0.79 native americans 0.8197 questions
0.7896 political philosophy 0.819 definition
0.7888 roman empire 0.819 and the
0.7882 bill of rights 0.819 what is
0.7867 population map 0.8186 people
0.7867 understanding the 0.8186 social
0.7861 political parties 0.818 problems
0.7854 hinduism 0.8179 diagram
0.7845 manganese 0.8178 american
0.7812 economics 0.8177 drawing
0.7811 condorcet 0.8176 examples of
0.7799 natural law 0.8176 in the world
0.778 ethic 0.8176 children
0.7773 social classes 0.8168 states
0.7771 important issues 0.8166 example of
0.777 cultures 0.8163 how does
0.7763 us political 0.816 new york
0.7759 population density 0.8156 experience
0.7737 density map 0.8155 exercises
0.773 short story 0.8152 affect
0.7727 mary wollstonecraft 0.8151 about
0.7726 middle america 0.815 gender
0.7725 chemical properties 0.815 york
0.7716 wollstonecraft 0.8148 access to
0.7712 the new york 0.8147 ways
0.7712 fall of the roman empire 0.8143 kids
0.7702 article 0.8139 normal
0.7701 enlightenment 0.8139 population
0.769 bill of 0.8136 what is the
0.7687 rulers 0.8136 america
0.7686 the united 0.8133 calculator
0.7684 social studies 0.8132 activities
0.7682 major issues 0.8132 famous
0.768 aristotle 0.813 to write
0.7673 senates 0.8129 the world
0.7667 narratives 0.8129 work
0.7667 political systems 0.8128 where is
0.7667 american democracy 0.8127 did
0.7666 native 0.8125 school
0.7666 social issues 0.8125 problem
0.7662 lower class 0.8123 how to write
0.7658 policies 0.8123 theory
0.7657 psychology 0.8121 child
0.7656 schwann 0.812 what are
0.7656 essay writing 0.8119 summary
0.7656 physical properties 0.8118 curve
0.7653 logical 0.8117 education
0.7651 constitution 0.8116 art
0.765 confucianism 0.8116 how many
0.765 american revolution 0.8115 happen
0.7649 ecological 0.8114 family
0.7647 native american 0.8112 cause
0.7646 structure 0.8112 rights
0.7645 on politics 0.8111 meme
0.7644 judaism 0.8109 presentation
0.7636 social welfare 0.8108 practice
0.7635 greek democracy 0.8107 does
0.7635 beryllium 0.8107 personality
0.7632 diversity 0.8106 to ask
0.7627 the sioux 0.8103 perspective
0.7627 standard of living 0.8103 functions
0.7626 population density map 0.8101 how to make a
0.7624 summarization 0.8099 where
0.7623 education level 0.8099 math
0.7622 greek culture 0.8096 ideas
0.762 economic issues 0.8096 counting
0.7616 americium 0.8094 three
0.7614 europium 0.8093 cola
0.7614 population 0.8092 formula
0.7613 gross domestic 0.8092 revolution
0.761 auditory 0.8092 product
0.7608 rights to vote 0.8092 between
0.7607 age of enlightenment 0.8092 how do
0.7606 number of representatives 0.8092 brain
0.7604 vanadium 0.8092 aliexpress

Table 2: “Democracy” in the U.S. vs. China based on Search Term Correlations by Week (in Google Correlate)


China is a “consolidated authoritarian regime” (“Freedom in the World 2019,” 2019, p. 3). It is part of a group of nations (“Pacific Asian countries”) that is seen to “have a lower likelihood of democratic transitions, holding other factors constant” (Feng & Zak, April 1999, p. 163). China is advocating a “development first, democracy second” model (McFaul, 2004, p. 149).

China is seen to engage in “backlash against democracy aid” and labeled the U.S. “democratic offensive” as “self-serving, coercive, and immoral” (Carothers, Mar. – Apr. 2006, p. 58). As a country, it has engaged in active resistance against democratic diffusion. In its toolkit are “coercion,” “economic patronage,” “restricting exposure to democratic ideas,” and “developing alternative narratives about democracy to reduce local receptivity to democratic diffusion” (Vanderhill, 2017, p. 41). China’s press freedoms were ranks 176/179 countries by Reporters without Borders in 2016, due to censorship and other government controls (Vanderhill, 2017, p. 44). More recently: Freedom House has shared on its website that China, in 2018, forced over a million ethnic Uighurs and others into “’reeducation’ centers”…”while President Xi Jinping’s position was secured indefinitely” (“Freedom in the World 2019: Democracy in Retreat,” 2019). Perhaps the infrastructure for mass incarcerations, seeable from satellites, serve as a warning.


From within, it may be harder to maintain an idealized version of democracy as contrasted to the real. For citizenry, democracies may seem fairly rough-and-tumble, with various personalities who attain positions of power, with their personality quirks and foibles and sometimes worse. Even though public officials are supposed to be answerable to the people, it may not always feel that way. Policy-making is fought over in public. “Politics” seem to be ever present. This is a form of government that has its strengths and weaknesses, as in every other type. Every generation stands to benefit from civics lessons and to move beyond “filter bubbles” and “echo chambers” to understand their respective places in the world, and where democracy stands in relation to other forms of governance. Civic engagement is associated with improved democratic outcomes and development outcomes (Gaventa & Barrett, 2012, p. 2407).

This work focuses on a limited set of interrelated questions. The two main research focuses are on the following:

What do the popular senses of “street democracy” around the pro-democracy Hong Kong protests on the Twitter microblogging site a suggest about (1) its meanings to the demonstrators, and then what are some of the implications to (2) e strategic and tactical international or external “democratic promotion” in the U.S. context abroad generally and towards Hong Kong specifically?

In this work, the senses of “democracy” in the recent microblogging messages related to the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong are several-fold. One is the sense that that democracy is mentioned as aspirational and critical to protect, for this generation and future ones. It is sometimes mentioned in the same breath as “human rights” and “civil rights” and “human freedoms.” Democracy in this street sense is about a protection of personal and mass human rights in a very experienced level and a rejection of the incursions of an authoritarian government seen to be attempting to assert its rights over a “semi-autonomous” polity. The demonstrators demonstrate a sense of their rights as individuals critiquing government over-reach, in terms of the anti-extradition policy proposed by H.K. Chief Executive Carrie Lam but apparently originating from Beijing. The proposed policy “would have let local authorities detain and extradite criminal fugitives who are wanted in territories with which Hong Kong does not currently have extradition agreements, including Taiwan and mainland China” (2019 Hong Kong Protests, Oct. 24, 2019). Beyond the letter of the proposal, many saw human rights being papered over and taken away from Hong Kong citizens (2019 Hong Kong Protests, Oct. 24, 2019). The messaging around “street democracy” on Twitter does not show high insight depth nor data high analytics, but more of an embodied sense of lived democracy based on inherent human rights: voices of the people, freedom of movement, freedom of association, freedom of speech, consent of the governed, and other aspects. If democracy is also about having the power of social protest and second-guessing government leaders and policies, those also senses of socio-political activism also were shown in the social imagery.

Another sense of street-expressed democracy is that Americans are mentioned in close proximity to “democracy,” showing an appreciation for the American model potentially and offering a shout-out to American friends and allies. As to soft power, the American brand of democracy currently is still one that is a reference point for others (even though democracy is seen to have declined in the U.S. under President Trump). Some hallmarks: the separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judiciary, the checks and balancing of power. Hollywood actors, international authors, artists, and others play their respective roles in this messaging. Work by non-profit entities may stand in the gap, including several that promote democracy by evaluating the state-of-the-world annually in terms of democratic practices (Freedom House), and others.

Computational sentiment analyses show that there is much positive optimism around the issues of human rights, the rule of law, freedom, political processes, and the Hong Kong people, even as there are frustrations around police actions and the label of “riot” to their actions.

Based on an open and public “street democracy,” what are the implications for the transnational advocacy of democracy abroad? What should it be at the water’s edge (at the borders of the U.S.)? As to international and external democratic promotion, advocacy is generally low-cost and non-committal. And yet, even then, official Washington seems to have declined to engage even in “cheap talk,” much less “costly signaling.”

Future Research Directions

This work involved the exploration of some 16 social accounts on the microblogging platform Twitter, to explore what “democracy” may mean in the context of mass civil disobedience and marches in Hong Kong. One way to expand this work is to capture an N = all instead of just skimming partial datasets from the respective accounts. There are other sources that may be explored, such as social networking sites, web logs or blogs, social imagesets, mass search term associations, word searches in mass book corpora, crowd-sourced encyclopedias, and other types of social media. (This work did use some of these source types but only in passing, not as a main focus.)

Follow-on work may involve other “street” senses of types of government systems: general current types such as “republic, communism, fascism, oligarchy, autocracy, and theocracy” or even more fine-pointed “anarchy, aristocracy, bureaucracy, capitalism, colonialism, communism, democracy, federalism, feudalism, kleptocracy, meritocracy, military, dictatorship, monarchy, oligarchy, plutocracy, republicanism, socialism, theocracy, totalitarianism, tribalism.” (The prior lists are those run in the Google Books Ngram Viewer” for a generalized sense of references to the various types in digital and digitized books.)

Other more difficult questions will be in the hands of other researchers:

  • Were parts of the Hong Kong populace living in a social tinderbox of sublimated concerns and frustrations that made the citizenry so willing to react en masse with the “trigger” of the proposed legislation? What made the messaging so viral?
  • What was the role of the Umbrella Movement in 2014 in laying the groundwork (and some of the social media infrastructure) for the 2019 demonstrations, particularly given the concerns about the lack of universal suffrage and the long arm of Beijing (2019 Hong Kong Protests, Oct. 24, 2019)?
  • In terms of the multi-messaging, how effectively did the various stakeholders intercommunicate?
  • What modern cyber capabilities were at play by the various stakeholder entities (various governments, law enforcement, journalists, demonstrators, and others)? After all, the June 9, 2019, rally “saw the first ever use of artificial intelligence in measuring protest numbers in the history of the HKSAR, which led to the identification of 517,478 people” (2019 Hong Kong Protests, Oct. 24, 2019). [“HKSAR” represents “Hong Kong Special Administrative Region”.]

Meanwhile, there is a sense of the future being written at least for the near-term. There is also the observation that each generation will have to advocate for its own interests when their time arrives, with competing visions of what is desirable and appropriate.


November 2019 saw the takeover of a university campus, the trashing of the space, and the recapture of that space by the police. Still, weekend after weekend, the demonstrations had continued even as the sizes of the crowds have dwindled. Only one of the five demonstrator demands had been met. Multiple Western governments had passed legislation to support the pro-democracy demonstrators. Some commentators suggest that the People’s Republic of China needs Hong Kong’s trade and finance capabilities as an effective interface with the world and so has held back on military action against the demonstrators. Others suggest that various governments have constrained the PRC against reacting with overwhelming violence. Journalistic reports suggest that there are “underground railroads” enabling the movement of demonstrators, especially leaders, outside of Hong Kong for their safety, to Taiwan and other locations. Where the government has labeled the actions criminality and disruption (but short of rebellion), the demonstrators have described their actions as democratic power and voice, commitment, risk and sacrifice, purpose, righteousness, conviction, and solidarity and unity. Then, in December 2019 and January 2020, news of a novel coronavirus which could be spread between people through both close-in contact (in air and on surfaces) was released to the worldwide media. Later, news was released that people could be contagious for person-to-person transfer even before the showing of symptoms (of fever, congestion, and other symptoms). This 2019 coronavirus out of Wuhan, China, was thought to have global pandemic potential given the speed of spread and fatality rates (Berlinger, McKeehan, & John, Jan. 26, 2020). Without any immunity, the world’s population shifted its mass attention and priorities to survival—with quarantines, travel restrictions, border closures, and city shutdowns. In the region, major cities in China were quarantined by the government, and emergency health measures were put into place in Hong Kong, including the delayed start of schools until mid-February 2020. By the time of this publication, the pro-democracy demonstrations had gone on for nearly a year without abatement until being overtaken by mass health events. [Additional protests occurred in Hong Kong albeit against a government-run quarantine center that the government wanted to build out of an unoccupied apartment building. (Berlinger, McKeehan, & John, Jan. 26, 2020).]

Democracy, as a form of governance, is not solely about expressing oneself. It is about listening to others’ diverse voices, forbearance, and the accommodation of others. It is about civic responsibility. It is about paying attention to social issues and policies and law-making (and law-following). Democracy in practice is raucous and sometimes inefficient and sometimes costly and sometimes full of strife. The health of democracy as a form of governance in the world depends on people’s coordinated actions, from a variety of stakeholders. The United States, Canada, Europe, India, and parts of South America are identified as Free, in the “Freedom in the World 2019 Map” by Freedom House. (Freedom in the World 2019 Map, 2019) They stand as aspirational bastions for those in countries “Partly Free” and “Not Free”. Freedom House suggests that the number of “Not Free” countries rose “nearly 26 percent” and that “the share of Free countries declined to 44 percent” (“Freedom in the World 2019,” 2019, p. 3). This is in a time when the group of nations entities seem to be in retreat in a so-called G-Zero world. As “transnational citizens,” the Hong Kong demonstrators have surpassed Stokes’ sense that a “practical commitment to global democracy” is not required for such standing (Stokes, April 2004, p. 119) by advocating heatedly for such rights on their own behalf and to shift their own political culture. Their actions and messaging broaden and complexify the long-standing sense of human rights within a “civil and political rights framing” from international rights organizations in China through transnational activism (Fleay, Oct. 2012, p. 915). The work of “how to constitute transnational democracy and the practical problem of how to realise it” is challenging (Karlsson, 2008, p. 203), and the world itself as an “uneven geography of global civil society” (Smith & Wiest, Dec. 2005, p. 621) even as democracy is “the main legitimating principle of government” (Dryzek, 1999, p. 30).

Some suggest that there is a lack of mass mental space for the consideration of others’ plights and needs, perhaps a nickeling and diming in international relations (with realpolitik at the forefront). Here, social media’s limits may also be seen, with the cheap talk of upvotes and encouragement, but from often safe distances, with nothing else on the line beyond mere light attention. Here, “street democracy” reads like sky-writing, euphoria clashing with realpolitik and hard power, with distributed hopes dissipating in the ether. If democracy is the background music of nation-states, and if it applies restraints on the practices of state sovereignty, the on-ground demonstrators of Hong Kong were arguing for applying international global norms to their national context, and their particular lived realities. The long-term and continuing work of creating a democracy endures; it will likely continue long after the SARS-CoV-2 is less of a forefront of human concerns.



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APPENDIX A: Autocoded Top-Level Topics and Related Subtopics from Combined Tweetstream Sets

Appendix A is comprised of a table of the top-level topics and related sub-topics from the combined Tweetstream sets. The subtopics provide more of a sense of lived-level communications among those sharing microblogging messaging, in a variety of ways: one to one, one to many, many to one, and many to many. A distance reading approach using computational extraction and analysis is complemented by close-in human reading of particular messages. (Table 3)

chinese abuse
chinese accounts
chinese advances
chinese ambassador
chinese anthem
chinese anthem https
chinese app store
chinese army
chinese army barracks
chinese army https
chinese artist
chinese audience
chinese authorities
chinese banks
chinese basketball association
chinese basketball fans
chinese basketball team
chinese blood
chinese boats
chinese bot firm
chinese brief
chinese business entities
chinese businesses
chinese capital
chinese capital stores
chinese censors
chinese censorship
chinese censorship practices
chinese character
chinese characteristics
chinese citizens
chinese city
chinese classics
chinese colony
chinese communist flag
chinese communist regime
chinese community
chinese companies
chinese consulate
chinese consul-general
chinese corruption
chinese counterparts
chinese criticism
chinese crowd
chinese culture
chinese culutre (sic)
chinese custody
chinese custom
chinese dance show
chinese dictator
chinese diplomats
chinese distributor
chinese domination
chinese election signs
chinese embassy
chinese embassy https
chinese embassy statement
chinese emblem
chinese entities
chinese entrepreneurs
chinese envoy
chinese ethnocentrism
chinese expansion
chinese expansion https
chinese extradition bill
chinese fans
chinese firms
chinese flag
chinese flag ceremony
chinese flag today
chinese flag-raising ceremony
chinese folks
chinese friend use
chinese friends
chinese ghost festival
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ill law enforcement officer
intellectual property law
international law organisations
intl law obligations
invoking emergency laws
law books
law breakers
law enforcement pledge
law enforcement staff
law enforcement units
law everyone
law expert
law firms
law https
law industry
law makers
law professor
law questions
law report
law schools
law society
law students
local law enforcement
local laws
looming extradition law bill
mainland law
martial law
martial law sucks
mask ban law
mask law
national anthem law
national security law
necessary law enforcement function
oppressive laws
outdated colonial era law
outdated rioting laws
powerful emergency law
ridiculous anti-mask law
security law
solicitors law firm
sparked extradition law crisis
stupid mask law
survived law school
term law
unjust law
using emergency law
using laws
water safety law
wrong anthem law
2 ware masks
anti face mask law
anti mask
anti mask law
anti-face mask ban
argued mask ban
banning masks https
black face masks
black head mask
black masks
broad face mask ban
carried masks
controversial mask ban
controversial mask ban https
donned masks
draft face mask ban law
emergency mask ban
emergency mask ban effectiveness
emergency protest mask ban
face mask ban
face mask ban announcement
face mask ban https
face mask party
face mask thing
face masks
face masks business
face masks https
facial mask
fack mask
filter masks
full face gas mask
full mask
gas mask
gray face mask
hinting needs mask
ill-thought-out mask ban
impromptu mask
jinping masks
mask ban
mask ban law
mask day
mask law
mask lol
masked demonstrators
masked individuals
masked man
masked person
masked police
masked protester tonight
masked protesters
masked students
masks https
masks tomorrow
masks tonight
medical mask
oxygen masks
protective mask
public masks
removing mask
similar face mask ban
stormtrooper mask
stupid mask law
surgical mask
unpopular mask ban
upcoming face mask ban
wearing face masks
wearing gas masks
wearing masks
wearing masks https
wearing masks today
♂ police
❤ police
05 police headquarters
1737 police officer
2 mill police leadership
2 police officers
2212 police officer
2214 police officer
2219 police state
30 police vehicles
3000 police officers
accused police
actual police state
admiralty police
aginst police brutality
alleged police
alleged police brutality
alleged police misconduct
allowing police
animal police unit
anti police brutality
anti-riot police
approaching police officers
arbitrary police search
arguing police
armed police
arrrgh police state
asking police
assaulting police
assaulting police officers
attacking police officers
australian police
australian police station
authentic police officers
auxiliary police officer
bald police officer
baton-wielding police
beloved police
berating police
big police force
black police
border police
brutal police crackdown
brutal police officers
caged police
canadian police
carrying police gear
cases police
ccp-driven policing
chinese police
chinese police databases
circulating police chiefs
condemning police brutality
condemning police violence
control police
criticising police
current police organization
departing police
departing police vehicle
detective police constable
dozen police vans
driving police vehicles
endangering police
excessive police force
existing police complaint mechanism
expandable police baton
facing police brutality
fair policing
false police
female police officers
following police
following police violence today
footbridge police
footbridge police cordon
frm polices
fucking box hill police station
full-geared police
functioning police force
heavy police presence
heavy riot police presence
heckle police officers
heckled police
helping police
highlighting police brutality
hk police
hk police custody
hk police firing
hk police force
hk police officers
hk police patrol
hk police
hk traffic police
hongkong police
huge police presence
including police
incoming police clearance
independent police commission
independent police enquiry
independent police inquiry
independent police investigation
internal police inquiry
interrupting police operation
involving police
large police presence
last police van
legitimate police officer
live police round
local police station
male police officer
masked police
mean police
mocking police
moment police
mongkok police station
multi-pronged police movements
nameless police officers
nearby police residence building
n’t police brutality
obstructing police
obstructing police officers
obtained police approval
off-duty police
off-duty police officer
outrageous police response
outside police
overtime pay police officers
plain-cloth police officer
plainclothes police
plainclothes police officers
plain-clothes police officers
police abuse https
police abuses
police academy
police act
police action
police actions today
police activity
police advance
police advice
police announcement
police apologise
police appeal text https
police approval
police arrest
police assault allegations
police assistant commander
police assistant district commander
police badge
police bail
police ban
police ban rally
police barricades
police baton
police blue-dye water cannon yesterday
police bomb disposal robot
police brutality
police brutality https
police brutality today
police calls
police car
police car accident
police charge
police checkpoints
police chief
police claims
police clash
police clearance
police commander
police conduct
police conduct searches
police conduct stop
police connections
police cordon
police corruption
police crackdown
police crowds
police custody
police custody https
police defence line
police defense line
police defensive line
police deploy
police deploy bomb disposal robot
police deploy pepper spray
police deploy water cannon
police dispersal operation
police dogs
police doubts
police duty
police ends
police escort
police families
police figures
police fire
police fire rubber bullets
police fire water cannon
police firing blue-dye
police force
police force inquiry
police gear
police group
police group head
police half
police handgun
police head
police headquarters
police helicopter
police hqs
police https
police identification
police identification numbers
police incidents
police incompetence
police infighting
police infiltrators
police inquiries
police inspector
police intelligence division
police intervention
police investigation
police investigation report
police issue
police killings
police letter
police license
police lift ban
police lines
police manual
police mgmt
police militarisation
police misconduct
police misconduct corruption collusion
police movements
police murders
police objection
police officer shoots
police operations
police order
police patrolling
police pepper
police permission
police permit
police picts
police ports arms source
police power
police practices
police presence
police press conference
police presser yesterday
police pressers
police probe
police projectile
police prosecution
police protection order
police radio
police raid
police raid fatalities
police reform
police registry
police regulation
police repression
police request
police resources
police response
police retreat
police rubber bullet
police security measures
police shield
police shooting
police sightings
police skirmish
police source
police spokesperson yolanda
police stage
police state
police state https
police state tactics
police statement
police station
police station entrance
police station https
police station reading
police station source
police stop
police storm
police story
police supporters
police surveillance
police sweep
police swore
police tactics
police taunts
police threat
police today
police top brass face barrage
police uniform
police use
police vans
police vehicles
police violence
police violence https
police warning
police warrant cards
police watchdog vice-chair
police water cannon
police water cannon truck
police water cannon truck fires
police water cannon vehicles
police water canons
police whatsoever
police yesterday
policing role
policing systems
possible police operations
powerful police weapons
private police cars
pro police professionals
professional police force
rang police
raptor police member
recent police brutality
red-light-running police car
resisted police
retired police woman
retreating police officers
riot police
riot police advances
riot police chase
riot police fire
riot police frontlines
riot police gears
riot police https
riot police officer
riot police officer push
riot police rush
riot police search bus passengers
riot police source
riot police squad
riot police stage
riot police station
riot police storm
riot police target journalists
riot police today
routine police violation
sanlitun police station
satellite police stations
saw police
secret police
secret police operations
senior police
senior police officer
senior police official
seven police vehicles
several police cars
several police officers
several police vehicles
showed police truck
showing police
showing police activities
slashed police officer
so-called police officers
strong police presence
sudden police operation
suing police
surrounding police cars
surveillance police state
suspected police
systematic police violence
tactical unit police
team riot police
terrorist police
thought police
thr police headquarters
time police
top policing
torch police uses
totalitarian police states
tripping police officers
twatted police
uk police
undercover police
undercover police officers
uniformed police patrols
unofficial police frisks
unprotected police dog
unstable police
victorian police
victorian police station
violent police
wanchai police
wanchai police station
watched police
western police station
whilst police
young police recruit
・ midnight protests
17yo protest medic
18 year-old protester
2323 protesters retreat
2nd mass protest movement
active protestor
aggressive counter protest
airdropping protest statements
airport protest
airport sit-in protest
announced protest sites
anonymous protesters
anti-china protests
anti-democracy protestors
anti-democratic protestor
anti-extradition bill protesters
anti-extradition law protest
anti-extradition protest
anti-government protesters home https
anti-government protests
anti-gov’t protesters
anti-police violence protest
anti-totalitarian protest
anti-totalitarianism protests
anti-tyranny protests
arresting protesters
asian protesters
assaulted protesters
assisting protestors
associate protesters
assuming protests
attacked protesters
attending protests
authorized protest
away protesters
bashing protesters
beating protesters
black bloc protesters
black-clad protesters
black-clothe protestors
black-shirted protesters
blue ribbon protest
brave protesters
brief protest
called protesters cockroaches
calling protesters
caused protests
chain protests
chanting protest slogans
chasing protesters
citing protest unrest
citing protest unrest https
citywide protests
clad protesters
claiming protestors
clear protesters
closed protesters
communist party protest
condemning protestors
countless protesters
covering protests
criminalising protesters
criticised protesters
crowdfunding protesters
current protests
day protest program tonight
defaming protesters
defy protest ban
democracy protesters
derogatory protest banner
detained protesters
discussed protest
dispersed protesters
distributing protest resources
doxxing protesters
dozen protesters
driver thx protestors
early protesters
elderly protester
emergency protest mask ban
enduring protests
ethnic minority protesters
expected protests
extradition bill protest exhibition
extradition bill protests
facing protesters
fake protestors
fellow protestors
female protester
ferry protesters
filming protestors
flash mob protests
flash protest
flash protest march
floating protest
following protests
footbridge protesters
frequent protest sites
fresh protest
fresh protest https
front line protesters https
frontline protesters
future protesters
gas mask-clad protesters
german protester
global anti-totalitarianism protests
global climate protest
grandpa protesters
great protest
haired protesters
hairy protests
harass protesters
hard-line protesters
helping protesters
hindering protests
hit-and-run protesters
hitting protester
hk prodemocazy protesters
hk protests
hoisted protesters
holding protestor
hongkong protesters
hour protest
huge protest banners
huge protests
human chain protest
illegal protests
inciting protesters
including protesters
increasing protest action
injured protest leader
injured protestors
irresponsible protests
island-side protest
joining protests
leaderless protests
legal protest
legendary protest nanas
legitimate protest
localised protests
lunchtime flash protest
lunchtime protest
mainstream pro-democracy protest
major protest
major protest event
male protester
mall protest
masked protester tonight
masked protesters
mass protest
massive protests
meanwhile protesters
months-long anti-government protests
much protesters
multi-district protests
multiple protesters
national day protests
non-violent protestors
ongoing protest clashes
ongoing protest movement
ongoing protests
order protesters
overnight protests
paper-burning protest
peaceful protest
peaceful protest footage
peaceful sit-in protests
planned protests
polite protesters
polite protesters https
political protesters
popular protest anthems
popular protests
ppl boycott protesters
predominant protester
pressed protester
print protest material?
pro-beijing protesters
pro-bj protests
pro-china protestors
pro-dem protesters
pro-democracy protesters
protest ads
protest anthem
protest applicant
protest area
protest arrestees
protest art
protest backers
protest ban
protest banner
protest barricade
protest camp
protest clashes
protest co-organiser
protest coverage
protest crackdown
protest crisis
protest culture https
protest demands
protest designs
protest firings
protest flyers
protest gear
protest gov’t use
protest group
protest https
protest leader
protest makeover
protest march
protest march https
protest mediator
protest messages
protest model
protest moment
protest movement
protest movement https
protest organiser
protest organizer
protest photos
protest pics
protest pictures
protest pooch
protest pop-up store
protest props
protest rally
protest response
protest restrictions
protest row
protest safety app
protest schedule
protest sign
protest site
protest slogans
protest song
protest target
protest tensions
protest threats
protest today https
protest turnout
protest video game app https
protest violence
protest volunteer
protest zone
protester blockade
protester molotovs
protester shot
protester strip
protesters side
protesters today
protesters tonight
protesting couples
protesting crowds
protesting people
protesting residents
protestor info
protestor tomorrow
protestor treatment
protestors exit routes
protestors lookalikes
protestors vandalism
protests ebb
protests rage
public protest
pursuing protesters
radical protesters
rare protest
real protestors
recent protests
regular protest
remaining protestors
restrained protesters
retreating protesters
rival protesters
scheduled unauthorised protest
screaming protest slogans
self-determination protests
selling protest gear
several protesters
shooting protestors
silent protest
silver-haired protesters
similar protests
singing protest anthem
singing protest anthem glory
sit-in protests
slashed protesters
small protest
small protest underway
smearing protestors
so-called protestors
spirit protestors
sprayed protesters
staff protest
standing protesters
station protesters
street protests
student protester
supported protesters
suppressing protestors
taunting protesters
teen protester
teenage protestor
trapped protesters
unapproved protest
unarmed protesters
unarmed woman protester
unauthorised protest
unauthorised protest march
unauthorized protest
understanding protestors
unknown protestor
upcoming protest schedule
upcoming protests
urged protesters
urging protesters
usually protesters
violent protesters
violent protestors tonight
violent protests yesterday
virgin protest organiser
w protestors
warning protesters
warning protesters bystanders
well-known anti-police protest chant
wheelchair-bound protesters
wildcat protests
women protesters
year-old protester
year-old protester shot
yellow vests protests
young pro-democracy protester
young protester
96 rioting case
anti riot cops
blame rioters
communist riot
cunning rioters
encouraging rioters
evil rioters
full riot gear
hardly rioting types
heavy riot police presence
leftist riots
outdated rioting laws
real rioters
ridiculous riot charges
riot cop flash light
riot cops
riot ex-police
riot fighers (sic)
riot gear
riot gear helmets
riot officers
riot officers increases
riot police
riot police advances
riot police chase
riot police fire
riot police frontlines
riot police gears
riot police https
riot police officer
riot police officer push
riot police rush
riot police search bus passengers
riot police source
riot police squad
riot police stage
riot police station
riot police storm
riot police target journalists
riot police today
riot spray today
rioters https
rioting charges
rioting conviction
rioting offences
rioting today
round riot shields
saying rioters
team riot police
violent rioters
riot police
heavy riot police presence
riot police
riot police advances
riot police chase
riot police fire
riot police frontlines
riot police gears
riot police https
riot police officer
riot police officer push
riot police rush
riot police search bus passengers
riot police source
riot police squad
riot police stage
riot police station
riot police storm
riot police target journalists
riot police today
team riot police



Table 3: Autocoded Top-Level Topics and Related Subtopics from Combined Tweetstream Sets


Besides various typographical errors (all left in place for fidelity and accuracy), another point of interest emerges. For example, there are references to cyber-based combat, like doxing. This is one of the first large mass demonstrations in the cyber age, in which all sides have heightened capabilities for using hacking, geo-locational data, computational analysis of text and imagery and video, facial recognition technologies, artificial intelligence applications (data analysis, predictive analytics), and others.



A combined analysis of a text set provides a meta-level analysis. The respective social media accounts, when analyzed individually, show more localized interests. Each of the Tweetsets here were processed at the cell level of granularity (not sentence or paragraph levels) using NVivo 12 Plus. (Appendix B)

To review, the respective accounts are as follows in alphabetical order by the listed name on the landing page (not the @account name). The auto-extracted themes follow, in this order:

  • #HKResist Fight for Hong Kong @Fight4HongKong;
  • antiELAB @anti_elab;
  • Democracy for Hong Kong @Democracy4HK;
  • Fight for Freedom, Stand for Hong Kong @Stand_with_HK;
  • Freedom Hong Kong @FreedomHKG;
  • Global Solidarity HK @GlobalSolidHK;
  • HK Demo Now @hkdemonow;
  • HK Protestors Share Channel @wyy19668645;
  • Hong Kong – Be Water @BeWaterHKG;
  • Hong Kong Free Press @HongKongFP;
  • Hong Kong Protest @HongKongProtest;
  • Hong Kong Protest News @ProtestHongKong;
  • Hong Kong Protests 2019 @HKGProtests;
  • Hong Kong Watch @hk_watch;
  • Hong Kong World City @HKWORLDCITY;
  • Progressive Lawyers Group @HongKongPLG

@Fight4HongKong reads as an advocacy account, with a focus on achieving protest messaging, while trying to bypass the “police” and “riot police.” (Figure 16)


Autocoded Topics in the @Fight4HongKong Microblogging Account on Twitter
Autocoded Topics in the @Fight4HongKong Microblogging Account on Twitter

Figure 16: Autocoded Topics in the @Fight4HongKong Microblogging Account on Twitter


@anti_elab includes mentions of “gas” and tear gas, which have been a central law enforcement tool. The “gas” can also refer to the gasoline projectiles thrown by some demonstrators. (Figure 17)

Autocoded Topics in the @anti_elab Microblogging Account on Twitter
Autocoded Topics in the @anti_elab Microblogging Account on Twitter

Figure 17: Autocoded Topics in the @anti_elab Microblogging Account on Twitter


@DemocracyforHK shows a diversity of concepts, including “human rights” and protests against “police brutality” and “violence” explicitly (Figure 18). The treemap diagram shows more sophistication and complexity of messaging.

Autocoded Topics in the @DemocracyforHK Microblogging Account on Twitter
Autocoded Topics in the @DemocracyforHK Microblogging Account on Twitter

Figure 18: Autocoded Topics in the @DemocracyforHK Microblogging Account on Twitter


@Stand_with_HK engages issues in sophisticated way as well, including ideas of “universal values” and “human dignity,” to make their case to the public for the benefits of democracy (Figure 19). Its social group argues against the “emergency laws” and “anti-masking ban”.

Autocoded Topics in the @Stand_with_HK Microblogging Account on Twitter
Autocoded Topics in the @Stand_with_HK Microblogging Account on Twitter

Figure 19: Autocoded Topics in the @Stand_with_HK Microblogging Account on Twitter


@FreedomHKG shares open letters asking for change, among various members of the polity (“students,” “citizens,” and others) (Figure 20).

Autocoded Topics in the @FreedomHKG Microblogging Account on Twitter
Autocoded Topics in the @FreedomHKG Microblogging Account on Twitter

Figure 20: Autocoded Topics in the @FreedomHKG Microblogging Account on Twitter


@GlobalSolidHK explicitly refers to “democracy” and the 2014 “umbrella” movement asking for universal suffrage. (Figure 21)

Autocoded Topics in the @GlobalSolidHK Microblogging Account on Twitter
Autocoded Topics in the @GlobalSolidHK Microblogging Account on Twitter

Figure 21: Autocoded Topics in the @GlobalSolidHK Microblogging Account on Twitter


@hkdemonow supports the space for protest against “police” and the uses of “water cannon” (Figure 22).

Autocoded Topics in the @hkdemonow Microblogging Account on Twitter
Autocoded Topics in the @hkdemonow Microblogging Account on Twitter

Figure 22: Autocoded Topics in the @hkdemonow Microblogging Account on Twitter


@wyy19668645 is advertised as the protestor’s share channel, possibly to help inform and coordinate the protest efforts. The police are mentioned foremost, along with various “object” types. Journalists are also mentioned. (Figure 23)

Autocoded Topics in the @wyy19668645 Microblogging Account on Twitter
Autocoded Topics in the @wyy19668645 Microblogging Account on Twitter

Figure 23: Autocoded Topics in the @wyy19668645 Microblogging Account on Twitter


@BeWaterHKG is self-described as volunteers who curate media material for the “current civil rights movement in HK.” Their Tweetstream shows a focus on police and protestors, to tell a story of a clash for the future of Hong Kong’s government and peoples. (Figure 24)

Autocoded Topics in the @BeWaterHKG Microblogging Account on Twitter
Autocoded Topics in the @BeWaterHKG Microblogging Account on Twitter

Figure 24: Autocoded Topics in the @BeWaterHKG Microblogging Account on Twitter


@HongKongFP has references to URLs as a major component of its messaging (Figure 25).

Autocoded Topics in the @HongKongFP Microblogging Account on Twitter
Autocoded Topics in the @HongKongFP Microblogging Account on Twitter

Figure 25: Autocoded Topics in the @HongKongFP Microblogging Account on Twitter


@HongKongProtest has few messages focused around “protestors.” This account only has one topic, with three related subtopics. (Figure 26)

Autocoded Topics in the @HongKongProtest Microblogging Account on Twitter
Autocoded Topics in the @HongKongProtest Microblogging Account on Twitter

Figure 26: Autocoded Topics in the @HongKongProtest Microblogging Account on Twitter


@ProtestHongKong has topics and subtopics that focus on the action on the streets between protestors and police. The clashes attain world attention, and they validate the respective roles of the protestors and the police, in each of their meta-narratives. The protestors are advocating for democracy and human rights, and the police are maintaining a semblance of order. (Figure 27)

Autocoded Topics in the @ProtestHongKong Microblogging Account on Twitter
Autocoded Topics in the @ProtestHongKong Microblogging Account on Twitter

Figure 27: Autocoded Topics in the @ProtestHongKong Microblogging Account on Twitter


@HKGProtests capture a complexity of interacting topics. (Figure 28)

Autocoded Topics in the @HKGProtests Microblogging Account on Twitter
Autocoded Topics in the @HKGProtests Microblogging Account on Twitter

Figure 28: Autocoded Topics in the @HKGProtests Microblogging Account on Twitter


@hk_watch maintains a focus on the extradition law as multiple top-level topics with related sub-topics. This social network also contains mentions of larger concerns, like the business community. This engages a range of complex interrelated topics. (Figure 29)

Autocoded Topics in the @hk_watch Microblogging Account on Twitter
Autocoded Topics in the @hk_watch Microblogging Account on Twitter

Figure 29: Autocoded Topics in the @hk_watch Microblogging Account on Twitter


The @HKWORLDCITY Tweetstream focuses on “police” and “protest,” with a sense of “emergency” (Figure 30). There are references to the subway “station.”

Autocoded Topics in the @HKWORLDCITY Microblogging Account on Twitter
Autocoded Topics in the @HKWORLDCITY Microblogging Account on Twitter

Figure 30: Autocoded Topics in the @HKWORLDCITY Microblogging Account on Twitter


@HongKongPLG, as a progressive lawyers group, shows their support of more liberal society, with a main focus on “extradition,” “law,” “bill,” “legal” in the context of “protest” and “street.” (Figure 31)

Autocoded Topics in the @HongKongPLG Microblogging Account on Twitter
Autocoded Topics in the @HongKongPLG Microblogging Account on Twitter

Figure 31: Autocoded Topics in the @HongKongPLG Microblogging Account on Twitter


Key Terms

Democracy: A form of governance by the whole people, in which people elect their leaders, rule of law prevails, and a free press helps inform the populace

Microblogging Platform: An online social media platform that enables the sharing of short microblogging messages including text, hyperlinks, imagery, embedded videos, hashtag labels, and other details

Street Democracy: A mass-public sense of “democracy” in its various dimensions


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