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Wednesday, July 13 • 10:46 - 12:15
User-generated counter-hegemonic discourse in social media: The case of the Hong Kong Police Force Facebook page

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Location: PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - LG01, 
Goldsmiths, University of London, Building 2
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  • Michael Chan, Chinese University of Hong Kong
  • Cicy Tong, Community College of City University


In recent years there has been increasing scholarly interest on the use of social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter) by law enforcement agencies to reach out to and engage with citizens, such as in the United States (Brainard & Edlins, 2015), Canada (Schneider, 2014), and United Kingdom (Crump, 2011). These efforts are part of strategic efforts to engage in police “image work” so as to reinforce perceptions of authority, legitimacy, and credibility.

This study focuses on the Facebook group page of the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF), established in October 5th, 2015. The launch came one week after the one- year anniversary of the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong where the HKPF was widely criticized for the firing of teargas on protesters. Moreover, citizen’s satisfaction with the police, dubbed as “Asia’s finest”, has fallen from 81% in 2007 to 50% in 2015 (HKUPOP, 2015). Most of the Umbrella Movement protesters were young, a demographic that is also the heaviest users of social media. Thus, the prospects for civil and rational discourse on the HKPF Facebook page did not appear promising. In fact, it may even become a site of discursive contestation and a “critical-reflexive space” for counter discourses to be disseminated by users against those in power (Dahlberg, 2011). This is especially the case for Hong Kong, where protests for greater democracy have in recent years become more confrontational and provocative (Garrett & Ho, 2014). 


This study examines: 

  • The presentational strategies adopted by the HKPF in terms of the types of posts it desseminates on its Facebook page
  • Users’ responses to such posts and the types of discourse they adopt 

Thus, this study takes a step further in the literature by actually examining the content of the messages. 


The study uses a hybrid approach that combines big data with discourse/content analysis (Lewis, Zamith, & Hermida, 2013). First, all HKPD Facebook posts is extracted using Facepager (Keyling & Jünger, 2013). Then, systematic concordance analyses using AntConc (Anthony, 2014) are conducted in order to quantity the most common words/phrases and qualitatively classify the different genres of discourse. This study examines the prevalence and sustainability of counterdiscourses derived from the ten ‘statement’ posts. The rationale is that these posts generally have the highest level of user engagement and comprise 40% of all user comments. They are the most authoritative in the sense that they represent the ‘voice’ of the HKPF leadership. The negatively of user comments in the first two days of the HKPF Facebook page was widely reported by the Hong Kong media. 


Preliminary concordance analyses of key words and subsequent qualitative categorizing and analyses led to some findings: 

  • Prevalence of a vocal minority users. Such users post frequently and are generally negative towards the police. They are more likely to post external comment (e.g. URL links, videos etc.).
  • Counter-hegemonic intertextual political discourse. User comments often had no relation to the actual HKPF posts. Rather, many user posts were critical of police actions during the umbrella movement.
  • Political culture jamming. Such posts constituted a form of “rhetorical sabotage” (Harold, 2004) and ‘political jams’ that challenge dominant discourse with counter-hegemonic discourse (Cammaerts, 2007).
  • Use of diverse text genres. Many genres were utilized, from insults to mockery, and satire to humour.
  • Visual siege. Some posts focused on dominating the ‘visual space’ of the comment area, such as repeated iterations of “black police” that filled up the whole message section. Others embedded anti-police YouTube video 
Future Work: 

The longer-term goals of the project are to analyze the messages longitudinally to have a better understanding of the posts, user types, and related intertextual political discourse. 


Anthony, L. (2014). AntConc (Version 3.4.3). Tokyo, Japan: Waseda University. Retrieved from http://www.laurenceanthony.net/

Brainard, L., & Edlins, M. (2015). Top 10 U.S. Municipal Police Departments and Their Social Media Usage. American Review of Public Administration, 45(6), 728-745.

Cammaerts, B. (2007). Jamming the Political: Beyond Counter-hegemonic Practices. Continuum: Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 21(2), 71-90.

Crump, J. (2011). What Are the Police Doing on Twitter? Social Media, the Police and the Public. Policy & Internet, 3(4).

Dahlberg, L. (2011). Re-constructing digital democracy: An outline of four ‘positions. New Media & Society, 17(1), 855-872

Garrett, D., & Ho, W.-c. (2014). Hong Kong at the brink: Emerging forms of political participation in the new social movement. In J. Y. S. Cheng (Ed.), New trends in Hong Kong's political participation (pp. 347-384). Hong Kong: City University of Hong Kong Press.

Harold, C. (2004). Pranking rhetoric: "culture jamming" as media activism. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 21(3), 189-211.

HKUPOP. (2015). People's Satisfaction with the Performance of the Hong Kong Police Force. Retrieved Jun 27, 2013, from https://www.hkupop.hku.hk/english/popexpress/hkpolice/halfyr/hkpolice_halfyr_char t.html

Keyling, T., & Jünger, J. (2013). Facepager. An application for generic data retrieval through APIs. from https://github.com/strohne/Facepager

Lewis, S. C., Zamith, R., & Hermida, A. (2013). Content Analysis in an Era of Big Data: A Hybrid Approach to Computational and Manual Methods. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 57(1), 34-52.

Schneider, C. J. (2014). Police presentational strategies on Twitter in Canada. Policing and Society. 

Wednesday July 13, 2016 10:46 - 12:15 UTC
PSH (Professor Stuart Hall Building) - LG01 Goldsmiths University, Building 2