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China’s Great Firewall No Barrier to Ugly Online Battles Over Hong Kong Protests

Sarah Zheng  reports: Hong Kong’s summer of protests looks very different from inside and outside the Great Firewall that encircles the internet in mainland China.

On Monday morning, the top trending topic on Weibo, China’s highly regulated version of Twitter, featured a Shanghai tourist who was “harassed and beaten” during a massive pro-democracy protest in Hong Kong on Sunday evening. It racked up 520 million views. A prominent video on the topic from Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily showed the man, surnamed Ma, telling reporters about protesters accosting and accusing him of photographing their faces, under the tagline: “Is this the ‘safety’ that rioters are talking about?”

But in Hong Kong, where there is unfettered access to the internet, the focus was on the peaceful Sunday demonstrations, which organisers said drew 1.7 million people despite heavy rain. On LIHKG, the online forum where Hong Kong protesters discuss and organise their action, one hot topic celebrated Weibo posts on Ma that mentioned a taboo – Beijing’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. The topic cheered the “first time China’s Weibo allowed public discussion of June 4th”, referencing posts about Photoshopped images of Ma in a shirt calling for justice over the crackdown.

An estimated 1.7 million people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday. Photo: Robert Ng
An estimated 1.7 million people took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday. Photo: Robert Ng

Since the protests began in Hong Kong in early June, triggered by a now-shelved extradition bill, there has been a clear dichotomy between how the movement has been portrayed online, inside and outside China. While Hong Kong protesters rely on social media platforms to organise and rally the world to their cause, on the mainland they are used to offer a nationalistic counter-narrative that is fueled by state media and censorship. As the city enters an 11th week of anti-government protests, these parallel universes have resulted in antagonism and conflict online. It has seen ugly exchanges playing out across social media between young Hong Kong activists and mainlanders, including from internet trolling groups … (read more)

Source: South China Morning Post

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