(In Chongqing, an art work named “Car accident is more fierce than the South China Tiger, my dad is Li Gang” appeared on the Foreigner Street in Nanan District. )
On an October night in Hebei University in northern city of Baoding two college girls were struck by a black Volkswagen sedan. The driver, who is a recent college graduate and a Baoding local, tried to escape but was stopped by security guard. Confronting by the guard, he said the line to be the phrase of year 2010 “My dad is Li Gang” who is a deputy police chief.
This case is widely discussed and even received international attention. The international herald tribute reported on Nov 17 this case under the unsurprising title of “China’s Censors Misfire in Abuse-of-Power Case”. It mainly reported how state propaganda machine tried to press the information and how that “is sometimes hamstrung in the age of the Internet”. The power of the Internet, as the report covered, includes blogging, online activists, open discussion and adaptation competition of the famous phrase “My dad is Li Gang”. However one important component was missing and that is Renren, the Chinese social network site.
I have quite a few friends who attends Hebei University and have been closely tracking the development of this incident online reading friends’ status, notes and shared information on Renren besides reading blogs and news reports.
The incident occurred around 9:00 pm Oct. 16 and a short while later photos of the scene were already uploaded online. The first album I found was uploaded at 11:00 at night. You can see the comment section, the replies didn’t even know this happened.
Albums and journals flooded my Renren news feed section. They were mainly about what had happened with basic description and few discussion. As time passed by more and more details were revealed and these details were often contradictory to each other. With these information the incident turned into two versions. In the first one the driver did not care about the victim but complained his car damage, then he sped away and warned the security guard his father’s name when stopped. In the second one, the driver drove away to avoid being beaten by students, and mentioned his father’s name to seek help from one of the guards who personally know him and his father. The first version was such a perfect portrait of a typical “second generation powerful” and the other version just showed a scared driver after a car accident. No one can be sure which version was real, maybe the reality was what they combined. But at least Renren had provided fast and detailed information with different perspectives which other media could not provide.
Renren not only helped revealing information but also promoted heated discussion. Every journals revealing different details would be followed by comments and accusations. The topic moved from revealing new information to Hebei University’s image, the “second generation powerful” issue, netizens’ conscious or unconscious biased accusation and the media’s lack of action in reporting the incident.
In this incident Renren at first helped reveal and spread the information in a very short amount of time. Before the propaganda machine was able to know and examine the incident it has already spread across the community. Then people on Renren posted their own versions of the incident which made it impossible to know exactly what happened but there being various versions is much better than there being only the media’s version. Renren also promoted discussion of related issues. Although this discussion may seem messy with foul language and personal attacks appearing now and then, they are undoubtedly precious. Some of the discussion touched on the moral question of whether to be sympathetic with the one who caused the incident, some revealed more problems of the university’s administration and some pointed out the limitations of media. This is what China need, a platform of information and communication, a tool that help people refining their mind and judgment.
Finally I think although Renren has provided a good platform it is still the user who really determine what he/she will get out of it. Renren, as well as many other social network sites, as well as our developing technology can help us know more and think better only if we keep an open mind. They can also reinforce our existing mindset if we only use them to get and defend what we prefer to know.