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Social Media’s Role In The Hong Kong Protests

Censorship Of Social Media 

The demonstration on 1st July 2003 saw half a million Hong Kong natives take to the streets in a protest against a national bill that was proposed by the Hong Kong government. It was backed by Beijing, and it was widely believed to restrict freedom of speech. That was then, but it seems that not much has changed. Chinese censors and opponents of the protests are now engaging in a cat-and-mouse game with activists and commentators in an attempt to halt news and unrest being spread online. The main goal is to stop all this activism reaching the mainland.

hong kong protests
Source: voanews.com

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters have been the victims of police tear gas, and all this to make their views known. Of course it is easier and safer to spread the word over Western and Chinese social media, or at least in theory it should be. It is actually becoming increasingly difficult for protesters to unite on social media as mobile phone networks are disrupted and concerns about surveillance grow.

The intervention is a massive concern, for what is a usually free-talking state, and despite people being used to Chinese censors polishing the Internet in the mainland, this is unprecedented due to the modern day impact of social media on cultural shifts.

On Sunday, it was widely reported that Facebook owned photo sharing app, Instagram, was inaccessible on China’s mainland. In addition to this, Chinese websites, including Baidu Inc’s search engine and the Twitter-like Weibo, have deleted all mention of the Hong Kong protests.

Other users have reported that messages on the popular WeChat messaging app have been completely removed. A 21-year-old student at Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University said: “I think it is quite safe except WeChat, which is China.”

“It depends on your phone, because some China (brand) phones, they can detect your messages,” he went on to say.

Other protesters in Hong Kong were still using WeChat, but had acknowledged the fact that there were signs of censorship.

“WeChat is not blocked, I think some stuff is being deleted,” said Jennie, who, after growing up in mainland China and being educated in the US, now heads a Hong Kong-based charity.

She went on to say: “I forwarded an article (on Hong Kong) today and it was deleted. The mainland should think it’s good people are expressing ideas on behalf of the mainland government, but they even deleted that. Basically they're preventing the opportunity for dialog, which if you think about it is quite scary.”

hong kong protests
Source: pbs.com
What is happening to social media in Hong Kong is a glimpse into the future for many. As people become more aware of their political surroundings, they will begin to feel disconnected and oppressed, and the easiest way to speak out about regimes that enforce these kind of oppressive rules, is through social media. 

Through social media, we can make connections across the globe in an instant, and this is what makes it such a dangerous weapon against the powers that be. This is why China is cracking down, and by doing so, it makes the conflict sinister.

Blocking certain aspects of social media means that the only way for people to have a say is to claim the streets, and we have all seen what happens in situations like this. It invites physical confrontation, as seen in Ferguson USA, and tensions go through the roof. Blocking social media is a sign of oppression, and only plays into the hands of protesters in this case also. If freedom of speech is an issue they believe is worth fighting for in Hong Kong, then the government has confirmed this by tampering with one of the main sources of speech.

It is a worrying state of affairs in Hong Kong, and despite the bravery of the protesters who have claimed the streets, the government’s skullduggery is clear to see. Many believe that this will be a growing trend as more people across the globe become disillusioned with politics. Governments all over the world will no doubt try and slow down communication, and by doing this, will have to target social media. As well as hitting social media, they will also limit the amount of coverage on mainstream media, and the consequences of their actions will bring aggressive protests.


Alex is an English Literature and Sociology undergraduate whose love for written word has led him to write about some obscure topics in his time. Currently a content writer at Social Media Frontiers, be sure to follow him @AlexSatSMF.

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Social Media’s Role In The Hong Kong Protests Reviewed by Alex Smith on Friday, October 03, 2014 Rating: 5
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