Social Media

Social Media Gives Chinese Protesters a Boost

Grassroots organizing goes high-tech


“We want to survive,” read signs carried by the hundreds of protestors who thronged the streets of Ningbo, a southeastern Chinese coastal city, from Friday through Sunday. Their demand: that the local government scrap plans for an $8.9 billion expansion of a petrochemical plant to be operated by a subsidiary of state-run oil giant Sinopec. By Sunday the authorities had promised “resolutely not to go ahead with the PX project,” according to a statement published on the local Zhenhai district government website and printed in the Ningbo Daily.

The city of Ningboâ€"a prosperous port of 3.4 million people, near Shanghaiâ€"is hardly one of China’s cancer villages, of the kind contributing to the thousands of pollution-related protests that happen each year in China. And the mostly middle-class protestors were not rising up because of past harms, but for fear of the futureâ€"and because, through social media, smartphones, and the Internet, they had gained information about the government’s plans and also about the potential health risks should the planned facility to manufacture the chemical paraxylene, or PX (used in the making of polyester), leak toxins into surrounding rivers and coastal waters.