By Stephanie Szeto @stepszeto
It seems logical that public tend to rely on official source, such as government to have credible disaster information and relevant protective actions than unofficial sources no matter in traditional or social media forms (Wogalter, 2006, Liu, Fraustino, & Jin, 2015). Nonetheless, Palen and colleagues (2009) found that public thinks unofficial sources can sometimes provide more timely and accurate information than official sources. This finding may explain why, in 2003, four Hongkongers decided to change their own website from personal photo sharing to a public SARS information distribution platform which eventually made the government to provide accurate SARS information in a timely manner.
The recent outbreak of Influenza made Hongkongers panic. Despite the statistic shows that 500 to 1000 people die from influenza each year and this figure is higher than the figure of 299 died from SARS epidemic, Hongkongers still blamed the government for not announcing the accurate number of death toll of influenza, which had already exceeded the number of SARS in 2003. Perhaps Hongkongers were still living in the shadow of SARS or Hong Kong government had lost its credibility. However, the counterfactual thinking messages on Facebook could tell that the government had failed Hongkongers’ expectation. Concern about the death toll of influenza might not be that high if the government updated the figure in its official media openly to advise the public how serious the outbreak was. Moreover, the message of “We, Hongkongers, save our own Hong Kong” was widely spread on Facebook to remind everyone to save oneself by wearing mask as the government failed to do its job. Some Hongkongers also made sarcastic comment about they were lucky to live in Hong Kong where Internet Great Firewall is not applied, or the death toll of influenza would be officially announced fewer than 40 by the government; because they observed that the Chinese government would not announce dead figure more than fortyish regardless of how serious the disaster was.
Recently, a Singaporean teenage Amos Yee, who uploaded a self-performed video to YouTube to criticise the late former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, was arrested and kept in a cell with bright lights switching on for 23 hours every day at Changi Prison; then ended up transferred to the Institute of Mental Health on 23rd June. This incident attracted so much attention from Hongkongers because a few months ago, the Hong Kong Basic Law Article 23 issue was raised again and there has been a lot of public concern about freedom of speech, especially on Internet, that any expressing and receiving any government unwelcome messages or political satire creations may be regarded as illegal, or turned out to be sent to mental hospital like Yee.