ⓘ Usage of Social Media in the 2019-2020 Hong Kong Protests. A wide variety of social media platforms were used in the 2019-2020 Hong Kong protests by those invol ..

Usage of Social Media in the 2019-2020 Hong Kong Protests

ⓘ Usage of Social Media in the 2019-2020 Hong Kong Protests

A wide variety of social media platforms were used in the 2019-2020 Hong Kong protests by those involved in the protests as well as domestic and international spectators. Social media played a large role in the organization and the promotion of the protests. Different online applications have been used for the mobilization of protesters, censorship of information about the protests, and display of a variety of responses around the world about these events. Examples of social media platforms used to respond to these protests include Facebook, Twitter, WeChat, and Weibo. In fact, social media has been called a battleground for public opinion on the Hong Kong Protests.


1.1. Hong Kong Telegram

Telegram is a software that allows users to send encrypted messages that cloak the user’s identity. This software was used by Hong Kong protest organizers to discuss protest logistics in large group chats. The apps hosts thousands of protests in hundreds of group chats to discuss updates regarding times and locations of protests to building access codes allowing protests to hide from tear gas. Previously, the app allowed individuals to match user pseudonyms to entries in their contact list, but Telegram worked on a fix to disable this feature, allowing users to remain anonymous from Chinese and Hong Kong government officials.


1.2. Hong Kong Airdrop

Airdrop is another medium through which protesters have communicated logistical plans. Users go into large crowded public areas and airdrop information to anyone who has their receiving settings enabled. Airdrop has also been a way through which information has been distributed to mainland China. The messages are written in simplified Chinese Hong Kong uses traditional characters which hints that the intended audience of the messages are mainlanders. In some cases, protesters would provide a QR code advertised as a method of payment. Scanning the image, however, would then trigger the airdrop of the desired information onto their device.


2.1. Mainland China Weibo

Weibo, known as" Chinas Twitter,” has most users from mainland China. It is a public community for Chinese citizens, where they have a relatively large amount of freedom of speech, but are still restricted to use some predefined" sensitive words.” Any post which contains these" sensitive words” will be automatically deleted by Weibo officials; moreover, sometimes the account would be banned entirely.

During the Hong Kong protest, Weibo, just like Twitter, had its own hashtag where people gathered together to express their opinions. The most popular hashtag was called" Hong Kong Riot” instead of" Hong Kong Protest” or" StandWithHongKong”, which are common hashtags in Hong Kong and internationally. Other trending hashtags include "Protect Hong Kong" and "Officers, We Support You". Another trending topic was Officer Liu, a police officer who was beaten during one of the protests on July 31st. Images of him, photos of the incident, posts by the Chinese state media, and his own Weibo posts have gone viral. Content in support of the Hong Kong police became very popular during this time.

Although Weibo is the most famous social media platform where people can interact with others, the Chinese government still plays a very important role in this community. Unlike the official accounts for governments on Twitter, the government-controlled Weibo accounts, such as the Communist Youth League or People’s Daily, are actually playing a role that is a combination of law enforcement and direct speaker for policy makers. Thus, most of the information on Weibo about the 2019 Hong Kong Protests will not be representative of the views of the protesters, as the channel for speaking the perspective is prohibited. Similar to survivor bias, the posts that remain on the discussion page are preselected.


2.2. Mainland China WeChat

WeChat is said to be the most popular chatting app in China; nearly every cell phone user in China has registered. People use WeChat for social networking, event planning and even business purposes.

During Hong Kong 2019 protest, when Hong Kong citizens were planning their protest via Airdrop, Facebook, WhatsApp, etc, mainland Chinese citizens who were in Hong Kong at that time were also planning their" Anti-protest” protest on WeChat.

There have been allegations that WeChat is censoring images and text that relate to the Hong Kong demonstrations. Users who tried to post photos to the "Moments" feature were barred from uploading them. To circumvent this, users distort, rotate, or add stickers to the photos in order to post them. WeChat users outside of mainland China have also had difficulty viewing content about the protests on this platform.


3.1. International Facebook

In the summer of 2019, Facebook users all around the world were changing their Facebook profile photos using an overlay of a bloodstained Bauhinia flower. This profile picture change was a way to show support for Hong Kong protesters. The posts were often accompanied by hashtags or captions showing support for Hong Kong. In addition to the Bauhinia flower pictures, netizens have been expressing their personal opinions on Facebook posts throughout the Hong Kong political activities.


3.2. International Twitter

On October 4, 2019, general manager of the Houston Rockets, Daryl Morey, tweeted the logo to" Fight for Freedom Stand with Hong Kong”. CCTV, Tencent and the Chinese Basketball Association responded by halting deals with the NBA or banning NBA on the media. Chinese companies withdrew their sponsorships of the NBA, leading to losses of supposedly $25 million US dollars. There was also an onset of Chinese social media accounts with negative responses to Morey’s tweet.

The NBA responded to the tweet on Sina Weibo with an apology letter in response to China’s backlash. This apology led to backlash from US basketball fans, and many users posted with #StandWithMorey and #StandWithHongKong. Netizens have criticized the NBA for being driven by business intentions to issue the apology to China, one of the NBA’s largest markets. Political and celebrity figures such as Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton and Tilman Fertitta have weighed in on the situation on social media. This event has been credited for drawing major international attention to the Hong Kong protests. The original tweet has been deleted.

Soon after on October 8, 2019, famous video game competitor Blitzchung made waves when he appeared on the Hearthstone championship livestream and said" Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our times” while wearing a mask. This happened soon after Carrie Lam announced the face mask ban. Blizzard revoked his prize money and banned him from competing for a year, to which other video game players and fans responded online with #BlizzardBoycott and #BoycottBlizzard. 64% of the #BoycottBlizzard tweets were from the US. The international video game community showed solidarity through social media posts, reddit threads, and an online petition called" Gamers for Freedom”. Blitzchung’s actions and the ensuing social media response added impetus to the movement by pushing more international supporters to become vocal online.

Moreover, protestors are using Twitter as a way to spread instant news. Mainland Chinese media and major Hong Kong media have had a history of censorship, namely during the Occupy Central protests in 2014. As a way to avoid censorship, protesters post videos and photos to Twitter in real time, and they tag major journalists and publications in their tweets. One example is the Yuen Long attacks on the evening of July 21. Gwyneth Ho posted a video on the StandNewsHKTwitter account of the attacks at the Yuen Long MTR station. The viral video shows herself and other people being hit by men wearing white shirts. It is common for videos and live streams such as these to be posted during major protest activities.

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