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How Does Technology Play a Significant Role in Hong Kong Protests?

Disclaimer: The views expressed are that of the individual author. All rights are reserved to the original authors of the materials consulted, which are identified in the footnotes below.


Background on Hong Kong


As Hong Kong was ceded to China in 1997, after becoming a colony of the United Kingdom, there have always been political tensions between Hong Kong and China. Numerous political problems have emerged from the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ framework. In brief, this framework allows ‘the territories to remain much as they were, with independent legal systems and police forces’[1]. Under this framework, two systems namely capitalist system and socialist (communist) system, which are currently running in Hong Kong and China respectively, work collaboratively under one country--- China. These arrangements are to last for 50 years until 2047. It is unclear what will happen after 2047, whether ‘One Country, Two Systems’ will still be practised in Hong Kong.





Background on the protests


So, how does this relate to Hong Kong protests? The 2019 Hong Kong protests occurred in June against the proposal of the Fugitive Offenders and mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill. This Bill was proposed by the Hong Kong government to allow transfers of fugitives for Taiwan, Mainland China and Macau, which are excluded under the current legal system and would open the door for China to arrest Hong Kong political dissenters. Fearing the erosion of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and the legal system in Hong Kong, a series of protests began.


Why do protests involve the use of technology?


An interesting point to note is that the protests are dominated by the younger generation, as this issues significantly concern their future. Hence, the protesters in Hong Kong, unlike protesters in other countries, have adopted a new approach that closely integrates technology. There is no leader to plan or to organise the events, but instead, protesters actively use the resources online to plan collectively. I will analyse the role of some main platforms used in the protests, and the implications on different stakeholders.

LIHKG


First, protesters actively share information on LIHKG. LIHKG is an online forum, which allows people to discuss and share ideas. Discussions run during the protests, for example, calls on citizens to strike and march as well as messages to support the protesters’ spirits. Unsurprisingly, the information on the forum spread widely in the local community and worldwide. Some forums on LIHKG called for protests which drew an estimated of 2 million marchers in a city of 7 million people in June.


Apart from organising mass rallies, the people also used this platform to brainstorm different slogans, songs and ‘fighting itinerary’ to spread the messages to people that are less active online and other Hong Kongers across the world. Some classic examples are the slogan, ‘Five Demands, Not One Less’ and the protests anthem ‘Glory to Hong Kong’. Hence, it shows that LIHKG can provide a very useful platform for protesters and non-protesters to exchange ideas and offer different strategies or tactics.


Under the influence of LIHKG, open letters written by protesters were also published in internationally in the Financial Times, Guardian and New York Times. This put a spotlight on Hong Kong and urged other countries to support the protests.


Twitter


Twitter is heavily relied on to tweet information worldwide. Cartoons, memes and videos helped people around the world to understand Hong Kong’s situation in short. Many hashtags such as #standwithhongkong, #antielab #occpuyhk were also used. After months-long of tweeting, Hong Kongers caused the US politicians and President to pass a law--- the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act to impose sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials who violate human rights in Hong Kong. This shows how instrumental social media can be in influencing real-world politics.


Telegram


Due to its special features (disappearing messages and large group chat), it is widely used among protesters. Protesters use telegram to create a massive group chats to provide advice to frontline protesters and call for large movements. This includes where to buy equipment, real-time maps, polls showing where people are heading and locations that require more attendees.

In August, an idea with forming a human chain in Hong Kong (paying tribute to the Baltic Way Protest in the former Soviet Union) was very popular on Telegram. By communicating over Telegram, the human chain formed stretched nearly 30 miles (50km) through Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories.


Telegram has also created a very special trend in Hong Kong. Protesters have started to patronise ‘yellow shops’ and boycott ‘blue shops’ (pro-government) some pro-Chinese Communist Party companies, like Maxim’s and Starbucks. This has created a large impact on those shops, such as having to temporarily shut down due to a lack of customers.


You might mainly use technology for entertainment or social purposes, but to Hong Kongers the use of technology has clearly meant more than that.


Donald Ma (Technology and Media)


SOURCES

[1] A.K., What is China’s “one country, two systems” policy? (The Economists, 30 Jun 2019) < https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2019/06/30/what-is-chinas-one-country-two-systems-policy> accessed 15 Nov 2019


A.K., What is China’s “one country, two systems” policy? (The Economists, 30 Jun 2019) < https://www.economist.com/the-economist-explains/2019/06/30/what-is-chinas-one-country-two-systems-policy> accessed 15 Nov 2019


Erin Hale and Emma Graham-Harrison, ‘Hong Kong protesters join hands in 30-mile human chain’ (The Guardian, 23 Aug 2019) <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/23/hong-kong-protesters-join-hands-in-30-mile-human-chain> accessed 26 November 2019


Rachel Yeo, ‘Hong Kong protests: how the city’s Reddit-like forum LIHKG has become the leading platform for organizing demonstrations’ (South China Morning Post, 3 Aug 2019)

<https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/society/article/3021224/hong-kong-protests-how-citys-reddit-forum-lihkg-has-become> accessed 26 November 2019


Alex Lo, ‘US winning the propaganda war in Hong Kong’ (South China Morning Post, 24 Nov 2019) <https://www.scmp.com/comment/opinion/article/3039136/us-winning-propaganda-war-hong-kong> accessed 26 November 2019


Isabella Steger, ‘Hong Kong’s fast-learning, dexterous protesters are stumped by Twitter’ (Quartz, 2 Sep 2019) < https://qz.com/1698002/hong-kong-protesters-flock-to-twitter-to-shape-global-message/> accessed 26 November 2019

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