PTT has proved a major incubator of Taiwanese social movements in recent years

PTT has proved a major incubator of Taiwanese social movements, as not only seen most dramatically in the Sunflower Movement but in its forerunner of demonstrations against the death of Hung Chung-Hsiu, in which over 250,000 participated in demonstrations and in which outrage originally built on PTT. Crowdfunding for funds for the Hung Chung-Hsiu demonstrations and for the Sunflower Movement was heavily concentrated on PTT using platforms as Flying V and QR codes were used to pass on crucial PTT threads at the actual occupation encampment itself.

An example of PTT’s front page on July 25, 2017. Photo credit: Brian Hioe

Organizing for groups such as Citizen 1985, Watchout, and other groups originally began on PTT, with much discussion concentrated on the boards Gossipping and Hate. The Untouchables’ Liberation Area sometimes also took cues from PTT discourse. In particular, Internet memes as kusos oftentimes originate on PTT before they spread to Facebook. Despite PTT being an older Internet forum which is still operating in the age of Facebook as a 1990s BBS style website and Facebook allows greater reach, the relative anonymity of PTT may lend itself to mass discussion better. Tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands people can be on PTT at once. Likewise, a website with a long history as one of the earlier surviving BBS systems still operating in Taiwan, PTT serves as a means of connecting both early millennials and late millennial.

Discussion of CSSTA appeared on the newly created FuMouBan after 318, as early as the morning after the occupation began, this board specifically created because of much discussion on other boards regarding the events. 60% of PTT users were looking into Sunflower Movement on PTT on the night of 323, out of the total of 177,734 people online. On 324, of the 11,090,000 hits normally on PTT daily, this was 4,000,000 to 6,000,000 individuals. Breaking news events such as the Ma-Xi meeting and the Formosa Fun explosion tend to be popularly discussed on PTT, but this set new records.

PTT’s “Hate” board on 318. Photo credit: dylan29341 (滴冷)

PTT users sometimes refer to themselves as “villagers,” or “xiangmin” (鄉民), and PTT culture is sometimes referred to as xiangmin culture. PTT serves as a venue for individuals to complain about life on message boards as Gossipping or Hate, the latter of which marked a significant step in development of xiangmin discourse by allowing for complaints about life, with individuals participating in this referred to as “bitter people” or “suanmin” (酸民), as a pun on the pronunciation of xiangmin. Perhaps PTT, then, inherits the storytelling culture of Taiwanese short-shorts once found in newspapers, as a space in which everything from angry venting to venturing into the ribald or sexual, sports, or serious issues could take place,

PTT can sometimes be an incubator for haters  or individuals who view themselves as losers in real life, with, for example, complaints from individuals who see themselves as victimized “nice guys” in society. [1] As with society writ large, PTT not free from misogyny. Yet for young people, PTT was in particular a venue for them to express bitterness against society anonymously, given the poor economic conditions they face under conditions of the 22K starting salary and so forth.

Gif of PTT on the night of 323, when the attempted charge into the Executive Yuan took place. Photo credit: dylan29341 (滴冷)

It is not surprising that, as a venue for complaints about life, PTT would turn towards discussion of the political roots of these issues. Or that, as has been seen in other parts of the world, Internet memes would become a way to make political statements. With this as a present international trend, Taiwan may actually be a pioneer of this. Under conditions of media monopoly, PTT also served as a grassroots means for dissemination of non-mainstream news for discussing events as evictions in Dapu, Miaoli or of the anti-media monopoly movement itself.

As PTT users sometimes embarked in human flesh search engine searches driven by a sense of anger, although sometimes this could lead to harassment or was motivated by less than noble causes, it is not surprising that PTT users might eventually take to the streets. Even so, PTT users sometimes claimed their actions were only in the name of fun and that they did not take life too seriously. The open nature of participation in a mass social movement suited PTT to a large extent, perhaps. An archive of significant PTT posts during the movement can be seen here. 


Read More About The Internet And The Sunflower Movement:


[1] Huang Houming. “You meiyou xiang min zong shi you xin geng de bagua?” 有沒有鄉民總是有新梗的八卦? in Wan jun nai hao ma? Gei juexing xiang min de PTT jinhua shi 婉君妳好嗎?:給覺醒鄉民的PTT進化史. Ed. Huang Houming 黃厚銘. Qun xue chuban she 群學出版社 (2016). Online. P. 163.


Photo credit: 中岑 范姜/Flickr/CC