On Tuesday, July 30, a new national law was enacted that would affect freedom of use of the internet and social networks in Hong Kong. Authorities may require sites like Facebook or Twitter to remove posts and user accounts that do not meet the demands of the Beijing government.
China is widely recognized for its censorship mechanisms it applies to control citizens. The free internet is practically non-existent since the “Great Firewall” blocks many foreign websites and platforms. Those who try to overcome this barrier to publish things that the government does not like can quickly become an enemy of the nation.
The Hong Kong metropolis works by other rules. It offers more freedom to online services, not censoring sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or Google. Due to their international reach, and because these platforms are free from the control of the Beijing government, many Hong Kong citizens have used them to demonstrate against China or organize protests.
However, this freedom could soon end thanks to the new national “security” law passed by the Chinese government, which will also have to be enforced in Hong Kong. The new law would supposedly criminalize those who carry out or promote secession, terrorism, collusion with foreign forces, and subversion activities on the internet – although in the law it is never specified what actions fall into these categories and it’s likely that they’ll apply it to those who support freedom in Hong Kong.
Twitter was one of the first social networks to speak out. According to a statement to the WSJ they said it “has grave concerns” and is still studying the law to understand its scope, “particularly as some of the terms of the law are vague and without clear definition” and they are concerned that it may have an impact on users’ free speech. While those paying attention to people getting banned every day for ideological reasons, Twitter is far from a platform that supports “freedom of expression,” which makes it a rather odd statement.
Facebook also made a statement. It seems that since the law went into effect on Tuesday, the social network has experienced a large amount of self-censorship of users who voluntarily close their accounts for fear of government retaliation.
Other experts have also expressed concern about the new law. Sandra Marco Colino, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, said the popularity of these two social networks is likely to be drastically affected in Hong Kong, causing users to switch to other lesser-known alternatives.
Haochen Sun, also a professor at the University, and also to the Journal, said that thanks to this law, companies will begin to receive many more requests from the government to remove comments regarding policy. He also assured that this new attack by the Chinese government on free speech will be very difficult to ignore since, being a national law, the platforms will have to abide by it or choose not to offer their services in Hong Kong.
“In the past, police would need court orders before asking the providers for assistance. But the force has sometimes contacted our members and made the requests without the orders. There were companies that did not know police were supposed to secure court orders first and they would just cooperate with the force,” said Lento Yip Yuk-fai, the current chairman of the Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association to SCMP.
Social networks are not the only online services that have been affected by this new law: both Google and Apple were already facing these problems long before.
During Hong Kong’s strong protests over the extradition law, many censorship accusations against Google and Apple arose. For example, Apple removed an app, HKMapLive, that was used to report with a real-time map where the concentrations of police were so that citizens could avoid them. According to the developers, the objective of the app was that people could also move around the city avoiding traffic jams, but the Chinese government classified it as a threat to peace.
For its part, Google at the time eliminated a game about Hong Kong protesters. The technology giant claimed that there was no government pressure on this decision, but that the game violated the terms of service – specifically a rule that prohibits profiting using current sensitive issues. But even if that was true, Google’s case isn’t just limited to one game; the company has several services blocked in China, such as Gmail or the search engine. Apple, however, has tried to stay on good terms with the Beijing government because the nation is one of its largest markets and so has been involved in much more censorship in China.
Despite the enactment of this new law, analysts say this is not the end of free speech in Hong Kong. According to security firm NetBlocks, they have not reported any major acts of censorship since June 30. Most likely, companies will try to adapt to continue operating relatively normally but censorship is certainly on the horizon.
The post Western social media platforms brace for China’s new “security” law to increase Hong Kong censorship appeared first on Reclaim The Net.
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Author: Fabrizio Bulleri
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