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February 26 2014

February 11 2014

China: Prostitution Crackdown Reveals Mass Mobile Surveillance Abuses

The Chinese government has launched a massive crackdown on prostitution in Dongguan, a well-known sex industry hub in southern China.

In addition to a news feature  on China Central Television about the corruption of the sex industry in Dongguan, the official Sina Weibo published an eight-hour population in-flow and out-flow map of Donguan city, which has been interpreted as the escape path of “prostitutes” and “prostitution clients” during the crackdown. Generated by Baidu Qianxi with data from Baidu map, the map indicated that most people fleeing the crackdown “escaped” to Hong Kong.

Baidu's 8-hour population flow map during the crackdown on prostitution in Dongguan city was released through Sina Weibo official account. Image via Apple Daily.

Baidu's 8-hour population flow map during the crackdown on prostitution in Dongguan city was released through Sina Weibo official account. Image via Apple Daily.

Originally, Baidu Qianxi was designed as a visualization tool that could map population flows during the Chinese Lunar New Year. But as Luo Changping at Letscorp pointed out [zh], the fact that Baidu Qianxi was able to appropriate the data surrounding the prostitution crackdown suggests that authorities are using mass surveillance to track these patterns, rather than only targeting criminal suspects, and thereby violating the personal privacy of untold numbers of citizens.

Some technology bloggers such as Lui Xuewen noted that the so-called “escape route” shown on the map was highly misleading as there were other reasons behind the population flow. In fact, in an ordinary day, population flow between the two cities can even be higher as many factories in Dongguan are owned by people from Hong Kong.

The use of geolocation tracking technology in this crackdown by the party propaganda authority indicates to the public that the police authority, through Baidu and other mobile application developers, is capable of tracking mobile phones and thus the real identity of individuals, as nearly all mobile numbers are linked with the owner's identity card. In reaction to this threat, many Hong Kong netizens said that they planned to shut down their mobile when traveling in China.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

January 13 2014

Hong Kong 2013: A Burgeoning New Media Sector and a Backward Government

Edward Snowden supporters rally in Hong Kong. Photo by Voice of America. Released to public domain.

Edward Snowden supporters rally in Hong Kong. Photo by Voice of America. Released to public domain.

Written by Michelle Fong and translated by Sharon Loh, the original version of this article was published on inmediahk.net in Chinese. 

Many new media initiatives, both commercial and citizen, have blossomed in Hong Kong over the past two years. These newly founded online media outlets have strong potential to transform not only the professional media sector, but also political processes in Hong Kong, as grassroots voices gain more attention both from the public and from political leaders. Below is an incomplete list:

Burgeoning New Media Initiatives

Hong Kong Dash – a collective blog operated by student activists, established after the anti-national education campaign in Hong Kong in 2012

The House News – a commercial news portal, following the Huffington news model, curating news and offering commentaries to readers

Pentoy – the online version of local newspaper, Mingpao, commentary page

Urban Diarist – an online magazine to record oral history in Hong Kong, sponsored by an architecture firm as a corporate social responsibility project

Post 852 – a newly launched “breaking views” platform formed by a group of media workers who collectively resigned from a local newspaper, Hong Kong Economic Journal

Bastille Post – an online news portal partially funded by media corporations, Singtao News Corporation Limited. The Group's founder and chairman, Charles Ho Tsu Kwok, is also a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

Hong Kong SOW – a social enterprise with an online platform that showcases the practice of “solutions” journalism. The social enterprise was founded by Vincent Wong, director of Strategic Planning of HK Commercial Broadcasting.

Some groups are also making use of Facebook pages to distribute topical news:

Tai Kung Pao: a distributor of labor news.

United Social Press: a page run by social activists, reporting and distributing news related to local social movements.

Online news outlets sidelined by government

With the new media sector is clearly increasing in strength and numbers, the Hong Kong government has been unable to keep up with the changing landscape. Many independent media projects have faced limitations on their work, particularly when seeking to cover government events — obtaining press passes has been a constant challenge.

Last year, citizen news portal inmediahk.net's contributing reporters were kicked out of several press events by government civil servants. These included the second public forum on population policy and the 2013 summit on district administration. In another incident, Home Affairs Department staff barred House News reporters from entering a public consultation where HK mayor Leung Chun-ying was present. The staff claimed that the venue had limited space and was only open to the mainstream media. The Information Service Department, an authority responsible for handling government press conferences and news releases, has routinely refused to send press invitations to online news outlets as they are not recognized as proper media institutions.

In response to this out-dated approach, Hong Kong In-Media, an independent and citizen media advocacy group affiliated with inmediahk.net, issued several statements demanding that the Information Service Department review its policies with an eye towards the changing media landscape, and to place particular attention on the definitions of the terms “media” and “news organization”. The agency has thus far refused to make any changes to its terms.

Technological innovation has resulted in the introduction of new media forms, from newspaper to radio and TV to the Internet — now an essential part of people's everyday lives. If we were to define the notion of “mainstream media” based on audience, many online news outlets would have out-numbered print media such as the pro-Beijing newspapers Wen Wei Po and Tai Kung Pao. It is backward and ridiculous for the government to limit its definition of “media” merely to printed media.

Malicious hacking a persistent threat

Although government restrictions are a substantial barrier for these new groups, online media's biggest enemy is hackers. Last year, a number of online news platforms weathered malicious hacker attacks. Inmediahk.net suffered Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks in May 2013, with a large number of HTTP requests coming from China. A few months later, in September, The House News became the next DDoS attack victim. Amnesty International Hong Kong‘s website was hacked around the same time. The hackers replaced some images on the sites with pornographic photos. SocREC, a social movement documentary video team had its Youtube account stolen in October. Hackers deleted over one thousand videos published under their account.

Internet freedom and privacy in HK and around the world

Government plans to pass the controversial Copyright (Amendment) Bill failed in 2012. To address public concern over the potential criminalization of parody, the government put forward a public consultation on the exemption of legal liability for parody in the Copyright (Amendment) Bill in October 2013. So far, major copyright holders and concerned citizens are divided in their opinions on the issue. But civil society has managed to put together a counter proposal calling for the exemption of legal liability on all non-profit user generated content.

Last but not least, the most significant event of 2013 concerning Internet freedom was the series of documents leaked by Edward Snowden that revealed the massive online surveillance practices of the US National Security Agency. As Hong Kong was the first stop in Snowden's escape route, Hong Kong In-Media quickly assumed a coordinator role in the organization of local support including producing a public statement and organizing a rally to condemn US spying activities.

Building public awareness about online privacy
Last August, the Journalism and Media Studies Centre of The Hong Kong University and Google Inc. worked together to launch the Hong Kong Transparency Report. The report showed that between 2010 to 2013, various government departments had made more than ten thousand requests for users’ personal data and more than seven thousand content deletion requests to local Internet service providers (ISPs) without a court order. A majority of the requests, 86 percent, came from the Hong Kong Police.

The Chief Executive's political reform package, slated to include universal suffrage in Hong Kong beginning in 2017, will be announced in 2014. As civil society prepares to exercise mass civil actions and independent press coverage to promote a fair candidate nomination process, conventional mainstream media are facing substantial political pressure to censor and tailor their content. In the coming years, we believe Internet-based independent and citizen media will play a crucial role in the democratization process.

October 26 2013

Hong Kong Activists Organize, Prepare for Online Attacks

By Haggen So and translated by Liu Heng. This article originally published on inmediahk.net.

Many civic groups and online media in Hong Kong have been attacked by hackers over past two years. The best known case took place in March last year with an attack on a platform hosted by Hong Kong University Public Opinion Programme (HKU POP). This happened shortly after HK POP held mock elections for the office of the SAR Chief Executive (CE) or city mayor (in which CE Leung Chun-ying won only 17% of the vote.) Most recent hacking incidents have been political in nature.

As the government will soon present the draft of the political reform proposal on the arrangement of CE election in 2017, HKU POP will again conduct a public opinion survey which serves as a mock referendum on the political reform proposal.

Meanwhile, civil society groups are preparing to launch a collective civil disobedient action to Occupy Central in July 2014 , to advocate for a genuine universal suffrage and against the manipulation of candidate nomination. It is anticipated that malicious hacking of civic groups, activists communications and citizen media will surge approaching July.

Forum speakers: Ben Chang, Jazz Ma and Sang Young.

Forum speakers: Ben Chang, Jazz Ma and Sang Young.

To address the issue, Hong Kong In-Media, an independent and citizen media advocacy group, hosted a forum on October 4 featuring local IT experts who explained the nature of online attacks in Hong Kong and discussed the potential for building a tech activist team to support local civic groups and activists.

The hacking of HKU POP

What the public appears to be most concerned about is whether the HKU POP computer system will encounter another round of hacking in the 2014 civic referendum project. Jazz Ma, HKU POP IT manager, explained the situation of the hacking of mock universal suffrage in March 2012:

Several days before the voting, a number of e-mail accounts related to the civic referendum project had received messages with attachment that inflicted with Trojan Horse, a hacking program. Subsequently the password of some accounts was changed. On March 21st, we first tested the voting system in among local universities and the HKU Computer Centre informed us that there had been millions of network packets trying to access to HKU server. Fortunately the HKU firewall had blocked most of the malicious packets. On March 23rd, we found out that that some hackers had written programmes to log-in the voting system repeatedly and thus caused the server to overload.

The attack that HKU POP encountered is known as a Distributed Denial of Service attack (DDoS). Sang Young, a senior information security expert, explained to the audience the nature of a DDoS attack: “DDoS attackers make use of a third party's personal computers and cloud servers as ‘zombies’ to attack the target server. The aim is to cripple the websites.” Apart from DDoS, falsification of data in sites to mislead users is also a common hacking activities in Hong Kong, Young said. Most of the hacking activities involve either commercial or political interests.

Concerns about privacy

HKU POP reported the hacking incident to the police and a suspect was quickly arrested on March 24. On the next day, the police returned HKU to collect the evidence by cloning all data in the server.

Salon host Michelle Fong immediately interrupted and asked: “Will cloning result in a leak such as the voters personal information and voting intentions? Will there be a risk of prosecution if the server contains a child pornography photograph?”

Sang Young, who has police training experiences explained that in general, when it comes to criminal investigation, the police copy all the contents on the server in question, but only for specific cases. It is impossible to use the contents for prosecution directly even if they involve child pornography. As for civil disputes and investigation, corporates will ask the third party to sign a confidential document that ensures all data will be destroyed after the investigation. However, as many online platforms now are using cloud servers, the police cannot clone the server and will only ask for a log sheet.

Building a local tech activist community

As social action depends more and more on online communication, strong support from technology community is necessary. Michelle Fong pointed out that there are various organizations abroad such as Tactical Technology Collective or civic web hosting services such as Nearly Free Speech to provide support for civic groups, while in Hong Kong, such a technical community has yet to emerge.

Ben Cheng believed that the civic sector has yet to recognize the important role of technology in social movements and few organizations are willing to pull together resources to support the work of tech activists. “If each individual is willing to donate $1 and the mass is big enough, we can develop new tools for social activism and security protection. But people do not find [this] kind of work important.”

However, inmediahk.net and Global Voices Online editor Oiwan Lam believed that the technical community should take an active role in social incident like the upcoming Occupy Central campaign and demonstrate to the public that technology can make a difference to social mobilization.

We [have] yet to solve many communication problems. For example, every year during the June 4 candle light vigil, the mobile networks are jammed and people cannot upload information to social media. What if our telecommunication service collapses during the Occupy Central campaign? Ordinary people don't know how to deal with the problem, but the technical community can take initiative to draw up [a] strategic plan.

Soon after the above question was raised, the IT experts immediately came up with the idea of adopting the Serval Mesh App from Android platform to set up a communication network. Participants agreed that a common platform for dialogue and brainstorming among social activists and technical experts is crucial for building a local tech activist community.

June 11 2013

US Spying Whistleblower Edward Snowden Takes Refuge in Hong Kong

When American whistleblower Edward Snowden outed himself in The Guardian newspaper as the person responsible for the bombshell intelligence leaks that revealed top secret US phone and Internet surveillance programs, he explained that he had fled to Hong Kong because they “have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent“.

But in Hong Kong, some aren't so sure about the government's willingness to have the 29-year-old tech specialist and former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor.

Snowden, who has exposed himself to prosecution in the US by revealing his identity, says he is the man who leaked secret documents to British newspaper The Guardian and American newspaper The Washington Post that describe two of the agency's classified spying programs. The Guardian first reported on June 5, 2013 that under a secret court order, the NSA is collecting information on all telephone calls going through major American telecom carrier Verizon.

A day later, both newspapers reported that as part of a previously undisclosed program code-named PRISM, the NSA has direct access to the servers of nine major Internet companies, including Google, Facebook, Apple, and Skype, giving the agency the ability to collect emails, search history, live chats, and more from Internet users without having to obtain individual court orders. The companies have denied any knowledge of the program.

National Security Agency headquarters, Fort Meade, Maryland. Photo via Wikipedia Commons.

National Security Agency headquarters, Fort Meade, Maryland, USA. Photo via Wikipedia Commons.

President Barack Obama and the NSA have defended the legality of the programs. But privacy and digital rights advocates have argued the surveillance violates the US constitution's fourth amendment, which protects against unreasonable search and seizure, and the right to privacy as enshrined by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Local politicians in Hong Kong are divided on what to do with Snowden now that he has taken refuge in the city. Hong Kong, which is a special administrative region (SAR) of China with its own legal system and a strong tradition of freedom of expression, is a frequent refuge for mainland Chinese political dissidents, despite the Beijing government's growing influence.

The head of liberal democratic Civic Party, Alan Leung, responded by saying “we should take [Snowden's arrival] as complimentary”, while pro-government legislator Regina Ip has advised Snowden to leave Hong Kong because the city has signed an extradition treaty with the US.

Media and journalist organizations are putting pressure on the government to support Snowden. The Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Hong Kong issued a statement stressing that Snowden's presence in the city is “potentially a strong test of the SAR government's commitment to freedom of expression and freedom of the press” and their members would continue to play the role of a watchdog:

Snowden’s exact whereabouts are unknown. But should it prove that he has remained in Hong Kong, the FCC will watch closely how the SAR government handles his case, and in particular how it responds to any pressure from authorities both in Washington and Beijing to restrict his activities or to impede access by the media.

Hong Kong In-Media, an advocacy group for citizen and independent media, also issued a statement demanding Hong Kong's government to offer Snowden protection. Below is a translation of the organization's argument [zh]:

1. The secret that Snowden has leaked concerns the privacy and rights of all Internet users in the world. The so-called “crime” that he committed is political in nature and the SAR government should offer him protection by rejecting any request made by the US government on Snowden's extradition.

2. Snowden has not hurt anyone. In fact, he has exposed to the world how vulnerable Internet users are and helped the world to develop a better understanding of “cyber-warfare” among countries like the the US, Russia and China. Many Americans see him as human rights defender and the Hong Kong government should withstand pressure from the US and offer him protection.

3. In any case, if Snowden was deported back to the US, he would probably face the kind of torture Bradley Manning did after he leaked the US diplomatic cables to Wikileaks. Manning was arrested 3 years ago and was detained in a eight-cubic-foot animal cage for two months when he was transported to Kuwait. During his nine-month detention at a Virginia marine base, he was put in solitary confinement and exposed to extreme conditions, such as lights on at night, blankets being denied, and naked detention. A top United Nations torture expert said “Manning was subjected to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” and “excessive and prolonged isolation”.

4. Snowden believes that this city has upheld the universal value of free speech and will offer him protection. The Hong Kong government should also defend our core value.

5. If the SAR government does not give appropriate protection to Snowden, it will turn itself into the enemy of everyone who believes in democracy and freedom.

Many local Hong Kong residents have been skeptical of Snowden's decision, however, suggesting that he should try Venezuela, Ecuador, or even Russia because mainland China's government has too much influence in Hong Kong. China will not jeopardize its relationship with the US by offering protection to Snowden, they predict.

However, if Snowden's intention is to capture the media's attention, Hong Kong would be one of the best choices, argued Kahon Chan in a comment on online news outlet [zh] House News:

When considering personal safety, Hong Kong is not the best choice. However, this may not be his consideration. If he has to defend for refugee status on court, he will have a very good opportunity as our court is very transparent.

He has two chances for making an appeal in court and every time it will attract the global media's attention.

Ronald Yick explained on citizen media website inmediahk.net [zh] why Hong Kong is not such a bad choice after all:

1. Hong Kong is the center of international media and has a large number of embassies. He can easily reach out to the English-speaking communities for information and backup.

2. US citizens have 90 days visa-free in Hong Kong. He has enough time to get support. Even if the Hong Kong government has decided to deport him, it won't be difficult for him to move on to a third country as we have many direct international flights.

3. When compared to country such as Singapore, the city has a better free speech environment.

4. Hong Kong has rectified a number of UN conventions, such as the UN convention on Civil and Political Rights, the UN convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment. Finally, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has an office in Hong Kong.

April 22 2013

Hong Kong Citizen Media Site Faces DDoS Attack From China

Hong Kong-based citizen media platform inmediahk.net [zh] was hit by a DDoS attack last week, coming mainly from China. On April 19 at approximately 4pm, the website was taken offline by Rackspace, the website's cloud host, due to malicious traffic. Inmedia, a volunteer citizen media network, has been blocked in mainland China since 2007. Inmedia members believe that recent coverage of controversial issues, including a dock workers’ strike in Hong Kong and the construction of a military pier in the city's center, may have triggered the attack.

DDoS Attacks from China

Administrators explained that the attack resulted in heavy packet loss caused by a deluge of automated data requests that left the site's servers overloaded. A further explanation from Rackspace to inmediahk.net said the DDoS attacks came mainly from China:

The attack was specifically targeting the domain name www.inmediahk.net. When we changed IP's in DNS, the attack followed. As far as the source IP's, it was a large group of addresses from various different countries, mostly from China, which is typical of a DDOS from a botnet of compromised hosts. The attack switched from a SYN flood to a TCP fragmentation attack after we enabled a measure which provides for SYN flood protection at the expense of site performance.

In order to restore the website, inmediahk.net has begun using Cloud Flare, a DDoS mitigation service, to pre-filter malicious traffic coming from sources such as a botnet zombie [a computer with a DDoS attack program] and web spammers [computer bots that send spam or post spam-like comments] before they reach the site's system. In 24 hours, Cloud Flare recorded 608 unique threats to the site. A threat control report confirmed that while the attacks are coming from different countries, nearly half of the attackers are from China, including Hong Kong.

Baidu Reported as Webspammer

The report also showed a large number of IP addresses (between 180.76.5.0-180.76.5.212) that registered as web spammers. According to Domain Tools’ IP information, this set of IPs comes from Baidu, China's largest search engine, which is listed on the US stock market.

Screen Capture from the threat report

Screen Capture from the threat report

Because inmediahk.net is blocked in China, all visits from China must come through a VPN (Virtual Private Network) or a proxy server — visitors’ IP addresses thus appear to come from overseas rather than from mainland China. In fact, Baidu's search engine does not show any results linking to inmediahk.net. When one searches the headline of a recent inmediahk.net article “香港獨立媒體網被中國黑客攻擊” [Hong Kong Independent Media's Website Attacked by Hackers from China], Baidu offers no result leading to inmediahk.net [zh]; an identical search on Google brings up inmediahk.net's article as the top result [zh].

Global Voices Advocacy asked Baidu for comment on the attack, but the company had not yet replied as of publication time.

According to inmediahk.net's report about the hacking incident [zh], the website has been paralyzed by hackers in the past. Despite having shifted to a cloud hosting service in 2010, it has continued to suffer from occasional DDoS attacks around sensitive periods, such as the annual June 4 Candlelight Vigil to commemorate the 1989 protests at Tienanmen Square. These have typically resulted in a rapid increase in computational cycles that slow down the website. But the scale of the recent attack is much greater than previous ones.

Controversial content

Members of inmediahk.net believe the attack was triggered by recent content on the site. Over the past two weeks, the network has been covering an ongoing strike by dock workers for Hong Kong International Terminals (HIT), the company that runs Hong Kong's docks and is owned by local business tycoon Li Ka-Shing. Articles on the site expose how workers have been exploited through HIT's subcontracting system — subcontracted workers currently earn lower wages than they did in 1995. Another polemical series focuses on the construction of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy Pier [zh] at Central, the city center of Hong Kong. It accuses the Hong Kong government of violating city planning protocols in the construction of PLA pier and criticizes authorities for converting a large piece of city land from a public recreational space into one for military use.

Global Voices Advocacy will continue to cover this story as it unfolds.

GVA note: Oiwan Lam is a volunteer editor for inmediahk.net.

December 24 2012

Hong Kong: Citizen Media Summit Seeks Common Agenda

An online citizen media summit, organized by inmediahk.net [zh], was held in Hong Kong on December 15, 2012. The objective of the gathering was to formulate a common agenda among local non-mainstream media actors. The summit, attended by 200 local citizen media organizers and concerned netizens, consisted of 9 sub-group panel discussions that revolved around the following topics:

1. Challenges paused by the Copyright Amendment
2. How to make use and step out of the “tyranny of Facebook”
3. Communication and exclusion and the “tribalization challenge”
4. Radical community media politics vs. populist politics
5. How to deal with government and corporate oppression
6. Management and sustainability challenges
7. Online content: Diversification or homogenization; Alternatives or mainstream
8. How can citizen media develop cross-border content
9. Grassroots networking through online media

Inmediahk Summit poster

The summit organizer, inmediahk.net, invited 4 distinguished speakers:

Ip Iam Chong: One of the founders of inmediahk.net; Lecturer at the Cultural Studies Department, Lingnan University.
Jack Qui Linchuan: Associate professor at the School of Journalism and Communication, the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Chloe Lai: Senior journalist and part-time lecturer on journalism.
Lisa Leung Yuk Ming: Assistant professor at the Cultural Studies Department, Lingnan University.

Below is a summary report on the main observations made by the aforementioned four speakers at the end of the summit:

Ip Iam Chong: Exploring common agenda across online tribes

What is the meaning of new media explosion, wonders Ip Iam Chong. It is a global phenomenon that marks the subsiding of mass culture. However, the process is very slow. For example, in the case of Hong Kong, TVB, a popular commercial television station, still has a large audience.

In the past few years, a large number of small online media have emerged but they remain very tribalized. Sometimes they are even at odds with each other. This summit was in fact a rare occasion for participants from non-mainstream media to sit together. At the same time, we, citizen media actors, commonly face a set of challenges: a common technological setting; main actors in the local democratization process; the subsiding of conventional and commercial news media organizations as a result of the failure of the existing business model.

The revolution taking place now is led by a large number of small online media organizations—the so-called “We” media. They are not just media groups but they represent a new political practice. Yet the movement also faces a lot of additional challenges, such as the fact they have to operate under the tyranny of new media giants, such as Facebook. They are restricted by their policy and technological settings.

Moreover, online media groups are ghettoized. The emotionally-charged type of information they distribute, mostly speaks to those who share the same perspective. This is the so-called “Echo Chamber Effect.” The affective consumption of information makes it even more difficult to carry out in-depth discussion on social and political issues. We are aware of the fact that investigative reports can be rarely found in online citizen media.

Despite all these challenges, with a common context, Ip Iam Chong thinks it is still possible for us, citizen media actors, to formulate a common agenda among local citizen and non-mainstream medial.

Jack Qui: Embracing social and political transformation

Jack Qui's research is focused on how mainland Chinese workers make use of Internet and mobile communication technology in the Pearl River Delta. He has attended the copyrights and grassroots media panel discussions during this summit.

To deal with the tribal culture, Qui contends, citizen media organizations need to have more exchanges. One of the speakers pointed out that people nowadays only show their concern online, but very few actually participate in offline and community based grassroots activities. However, when compared with other countries, citizen media in Hong Kong is very much attached to local and urban politics.

We are in the era of “mass self-communication.” It generates from the self, with roots in the local communities. There is potential for it to go deeper and extend into the rest of the society. Of course, we are constrained by capital and legal settings, as pointed out by the Copyright group during the summit. Furthermore, we are locked in a “tele-cocoon,” partly because of the communication mode of the existing social media platforms. The situation is the same across all countries. The sustainability of the self is crucial to overcome the above-mentioned difficulties as the self is the source of creativity and diversity.

The Internet public sphere, constituted by mass self-communication, is a site for political contest. Currently, the new media sector in Hong Kong has not generated enough power to threaten the political status quo. That's why the pro-China political forces do not have a strong political will to take it over. However, when we look at the South Korean experience, in 2001, the democratic alliance defeated the conservatives in the presidential election largely with the help of online mobilization. Within 5 years (in 2006) the conservatives had taken over the Internet public sphere and subsequently regained their power. The same situation may happen in Hong Kong as well.

Yet Jack Qui believes that we should not be defeated and should embrace the project of social and political transformation in Hong Kong, as well as in China, with our media practice.

Chloe Lai: Content is the King

Chloe Lai's background is professional journalism. She believes that the definition of a journalist is through journalistic practice rather than through any institutional set up. Even though she has left the industry, she says she is still a journalist. The oppression of professional and citizen journalists is of a similar nature. The difference is, citizen journalists don't have institutional support when they are bullied. Community support is thus very important. The nature of oppression is multidimensional, exercised through government policy, legal prosecution, or even physical violence. A workshop for individual bloggers is probably needed to help them build their community support.

As for the cross-border discussion, we are all aware of the fact that international news delivery has been monopolized by international news agencies. The situation in Hong Kong is even worse. For commercial media, news is restricted to what the market or their audience dictate; that's why they only focus on reporting news in countries where Hong Kong people visit most frequently. Citizen media, in that regard, has more freedom to report on international news. Of course resources remain a huge challenge.

As for sharing Hong Kong news with the global audience, the language barrier need to be overcome. Currently international news agencies' interest is all about mainland China, rather than Hong Kong. More English content needs to be produced to tell the global audience what happens here. Actually translation is more difficult than writing original news as you need to provide a lot of context. Hong Kong mainstream media is often disappointing in that regard. At the same time citizen media content is mainly made of news commentaries. As a trained journalist, Chloe believes that content is the king and that investigative reporting is essential, “that's why I really appreciate inmediahk.net's effort in producing first hand citizen report,” she adds. Moreover, Chloe thinks we should judge our news by its news value and public interest, rather than the liking or the political attitude of the audience.

In conclusion, Chloe Lai observes that many online media organizations in Hong Kong have emerged because of the current political context. She wonders: Once the political context changes, will the organizations still be defending our free speech environment? Or will their position depend on which political clan media bosses belong to?

Lisa Leung: Management of Creativity

Lisa Leung's current research is focused on social media and political participation. She believes we face a lot of contradictions today. On the one hand, the communication is very individualized, and on the other we perceive the online space as a “public space”. However, we all know that the technological setting is “customized”. We are not living in a global village, just a “customized cottage.” We have to walk out from such a myth. The path is not straight, it is a zig-zag path through trials and errors.

The second character of the social media is its affective aspect. The “self” is at the center of the performance. How to manage our “affection” to build more constructive discussions? The re-packaging of information and news seems important. The management of creativity is crucial as well, such as in the handling of the legal risks. For example Golden Forum (a popular Hong Kong-based Internet forum) users are experienced in making use of “parody” to avoid legal prosecutions such as defamation and distribution of indecent materials online.

As for the sustainability question, most of the citizen and non-mainstream media depend on “friendship” and the “shared vision” which are also related to the affective aspect. But how to extend the closed network and run your organization as a media that reaches out to bigger audiences is still a big challenge.

October 27 2012

Hong Kong: Battle against 50 Cents at Wikipedia

Editor note: Below is a translation of the article: Battle at Wikipedia - Counterbalance Brainwashing and Slanders through Participation, originally published [zh] in inmediahk.net in Chinese. The article is about how pro-government online commentators, often known as the “50 Cent Party,” use Wikipedia entries to defame pro-democracy community leaders. The article is written within the context of the Anti-national education campaign; the writer, Ah Oi, extended the battle against brainwashing from the classroom to Wikipedia and interviewed two senior wikipedians from Hong Kong and Macau to comment upon the issue. The article is translated by Xiao Ye, a contributing reporter at inmediahk.net.

Battle at Wikipedia - Counterbalance Brainwashing and Slanders through Participation

A mandatory national education curriculum and the guidelines from the Department of Education was eventually put aside due to universal opposition from Hong Kong citizens. However, people in Hong Kong are still worried about whether content [from 50-cent Party writers] will filter into other subjects such as General Studies. The battle over different interpretations of history, political terms and specific persons has been taking place in different media. For example, some pro-Beijing newspapers always make up articles to defame local pro-democracy politicians and social movement activists. Meanwhile, controversies often appear in the editing of Chinese Wikipedia articles. The June Fourth Incident [zh] was considered the most controversial entry in the past. Recently a new entry, the “Three-way Society,” has been invented to defame local pro-democracy community leaders, such as the founder of the Democratic Party, Martin Lee, the Chinese Cardinal of the Catholic Church, Joseph Zen, the former Hong Kong government official Anson Chan, and the founder of Next Media Group, Jimmy Lai.

Wiki entry as a tool for defamation?

Wikipedia is a platform based on factual knowledge which emphasizes objectivity and neutrality. Many students like to quote its entries as references when doing their projects, so it is quite influential among adolescents. However, because its entries are open for everyone to edit, it can be easily invaded by some specialized writers, including the “online navy” and the “50 Cent party,” names which refer to Internet commentators hired by the Chinese government.

The entry [into Wikipedia of a topic called] “Three-way Society” is apparently used for attacking certain political and religious persons in Hong Kong. This [Wikipedia topic] is introduced because it is supposedly “internet slang,” but generally only widely used online slang gains a Wiki entry, such as “Cao Nima” or Grass Mud Horse and “He Xie” or River Crab. In the case of “Three-way Society,” other than in the Chinese Wikipedia, the term cannot be found online, in Google, Yahoo or Baidu.

Macbox, the writer of the entry, defines “Three-Way Society” as a term that “generally refers to organized Chinese treason groups or societies being subsidized and working for non-Chinese organizations which aims at inciting subversion of the state or local governments. They are mainly based in Hong Kong where freedom of speech is allowed. They also promote the Hong Kong independence movement and separatism.” Judgments from pro-Beijing media like Wenhui Newspaper and ATV are also quoted in the entry at great lengths, which regards the Anti-National Education Movement and the development conflicts in the northeast part of New Territories as conspiracies launched by the “Three-Way Society,” with the aim of “de-chinazation” and embarrassing the Hong Kong SAR government.

Although currently the entry is under dispute, lots of netizens still feel anxious. If a large number of 50 Cent Party articles enter Wikipedia, will the knowledge-based platform be ruined? To answer this question, we interviewed two senior Wikipedians Yuyu and Albert from the local Wikipedia Community.

The monitoring mechanism of “50 Cents”

Q: The “Three-Way Society” entry recently added to the Chinese Wikipedia makes people worry that Wikipedia has been appropriated as Chinese Communist Party propaganda. Could you please explain why the entry would appear in the Chinese Wikipedia and what kind of mechanism the Wikipedian community has to deal with this issue?

Yuyu: Actually, Wikipedia and Wikimedia sister projects are not very different from forums like the Hong Kong Golden. In some situations Wiki is even looser in management. It is not surprising that all kinds of entries could appear in Wiki because almost anyone can register an account and do the editing. Basically, Wiki hopes that readers and editors can take the initiative to modify entries and deal with problems; of course the active Wikipedians should take the main responsibility. The number of Wikipedians in English Wikipedia is relatively large so that they tackle the problems efficiently, however, the Chinese Wikipedia usually handle issues much more slowly.

Q: Some netizens think Internet writers hired by the Chinese Communist Party are able to change the entries constantly; in contrast, ordinary Internet users could only participate in editing in their spare time, so it is hard to form a counterbalance of power. How will you respond to such worries?

Yuyu: The situation has been tough. Without proper measures, ordinary netizens may be outnumbered by occupational writers. So far we have not found large number of “online navy” writers in Wikipedia; usually those suspect writers tend to break more rules, such as using fake accounts to vote or being impartial. We hope that readers can help by correcting the entries by themselves, after all, the number of active Wikipedians is limited, and the readers should at least report the issues to them.

Albert: So far we have not seen too many “online navy” writers in Chinese Wikipedia, because the community in mainland China is still small. The “online navy” is more active in Baidu Encyclopedia because the rules there are not so strict, which allows plagiarism and cut-and-paste posting. However, Wikipedia does not accept these [kinds of edits], so it adds to the difficulties for them to post.

Q: Are there other controversies about entries which are similar to the “Three-way Society” case? Can you give some examples and how these controversies were eventually solved?

Yuyu: Actually there are no “controversies,” but there are always entries that aim to express personal political views. These entries automatically violate Wikipedia policies thus are largely modified or disputed.

Albert: Entries related to history or politics are the most controversial, such as the entry of the “June Forth incident” which has been argued over for many years. (Editor note: The entry has been modified more than 500 times since 2008).

Counterbalance through participation

Q: We have witnessed the increase of Hong Kong-Mainland conflicts in recent years, and has it been reflected in the Wikipedian community? Are there any examples? How do you deal with such conflicts?

Yuyu: Hong Kong-mainland conflicts in Wiki are always serious. For example, the calls for the mainland China Wikipedia editor “Shizhao” to step down reflect the conflict between local netizens in Hong Kong and core Wikipedia managers from Mainland China. In fact, many Hong Kong wikipedians don't want to disclose the internal conflicts to the public, but we really hope more people can participate in Wikipedia in order to counterbalance the situation.

2013 Wikimania (Hong Kong)

There are many rules and regulations for editing Wikipedia and such rules ensure that the entries are factual and impartial. As Yuyu said, the best way to counterbalance the “online navy” and the “Greater China mentality” is netizens' spontaneous participation. The annual Wikimania 2013 conference will be hold in the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and it will call for submission of group topic in December this year. For those who are interested in it could start writing Wikipedia entries and prepare to get involved in the face-to-face discussion next year.

October 09 2012

Hong Kong: Derivative work Concern Group Condemns Youtube for Deletion of Authorized Work

Derivative Work Concern Group in Hong Kong recently issued a statement condemning Youtube for the deletion of an authorized derivative song for commemorating the victims of recent ship crash.

[Update: an initial response from Google explains the procedure of the take down process: once they scan the song, they would ask the copyrights holder, in this case UMG how to deal with the case. The copyrights holder has three options: 1. leave the video as it is; 2. put ads on it and generate venue for UMG; 3. infringement take down. As for the argument of fair use, the dispute is between the copyrights owner and the derivative work composer. Youtube cannot be the court in deciding the content because of the web neutrality principle. Yet UMG have issued a public statement [zh] saying that Youbute hasn't consulted them about the Take-down.]

The song, Hong Kong with Love,《大愛香港》, was a derivative work of original song's lyric was composed and music directed by Adrian Chow. With the authorization from Chow, famous derivative song writer, San Kala (山卡啦)composed the new song which was sung by G Major (G大調). However the song was taken down soon after uploaded onto Youtube.

The song was uploaded by G Major. According to G Major the warning letter issued by Youtube was written in threatening tone. It said: If we received another infringement notice, we would delete your account and all the videos that you've uploaded…. Please delete all the videos that you don't have all-rights-reserved and please don't upload any video that infringe others' copyrights”.

Youtube's copyrights infringement warning letter to @Gmajmusic

The concern group's statement on October 8 states that such warning has deprived G Major, San Kala and other derivative work creators' rights to expression.

The concern group has cross-checked with Universal Musical Group (UMG), the company copyrights holder on the matter. The company claimed that they did not issue any complaint letter to Youtube and explained that the take-down was done by Youtube's automatic detection.

In the warning letter, Youtube said the take-down practice was according to the U.S copyrights Ordinance. If this is true, derivative work should be under the protection of fair use and the first amendment of the U.S Constitution. That's why in the U.S.A, the parody of “Oh, Pretty Woman” has won the case.

The concern group demands Youtube:

1. To restore the video “Hong Kong, with Love”
2. To correct Youtube's previous statement that San Kala and G Major have infringed the rights of original copyrights holder.
3. To apologize to San Kala and G Major
4. Instead of using the auto-detection and delete the works without asking if authorization has been granted or if the work is a fair use case, Youte should stop the pre-assumption of a derivative work as guilty.
5. Explain to the public how is the decision of the take down of Hong Kong with Love is made.

Concern Group's statement in Chinese

September 05 2012

Hong Kong: Advocacy Group Pressed Candidates of the Legislature to Reveal Position on Free Speech and Information Policy

In order to press the members of the 2012-2016 Legislative Council to defend freedom of speech and free flow of information, Hong Kong In-Media, a local advocacy group for promoting citizen media practice issued a questionnaire to all candidates, asking them to reveal their position.

The election date of the Legislative Council will be on 9 of September, 2012.

Pro-establishment politicians refused to reveal their position

Most of the pro-Beijing and pro-establishment political parties' candidates, such as Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, The Hong Kong Federation of Trade Union and Liberal Party did not answer the questionnaire. In addition, candidates from 16 functional constituency who have already obtained their seats without any competition also did not answer to the questionnaire. Among the 127 candidate lists, only 52 have replied, less than 45%, although the responding rate among the district direct election candidates is up to 55%.

Thumb Down for the pro-establishment 2012 Legislative Council candidates who refused to answer the free speech and information policy questionnaire.

Hong Kong In-Media's free-speech campaigner, Michelle Fong criticized the pro-establishment camp for ignoring Hong Kong people's concern and the society's core value in the press conference.

Strong consensus on information and speech freedom

Among the responded candidates, there is a very strong, almost unanimously consensus on issues related with government transparence, free information flow and freedom of speech. More than 95%:

1. The government should legislate for “informational freedom law” so that the press and Hong Kong citizens have the rights to get access to government information.

2. Government's internet policy should be guided by information freedom and free speech and avoid censorship and filtering.

3. The government should approve the issuing of three free terrestrial Television licenses [which has been approved by the Executive Council] within 12 months.

4. The government should open up the air-wave and develop community radio.

More than 90% among the responded candidates agrees:

1. The government should disclose the filter list of public and sponsored wifi service.

2. The government should exempt the criminal liability of derivative works in the amendment of copyrights ordinance.

3. The government should disclose the guidelines for the adjudicators in the categorization of indecent and obscene articles.

4. The government should clarify the definition of “indecency” and “obscenity” in order to avoid wrong categorization.

5. The government should invite the civil society and business sector in formulating policy on internet governance.

6. The government should improve the infrastructure for digital broadcast and encourage business and civic sector to run digital broadcast business and service.

7. The transformation of Radio Television Broadcast to Public Service Broadcast.

8. The government should legislate the “Archives Law” to keep record of the policy making process and policy paper.

9. The government should review the public security ordinance to protect the freedom of assembly and demonstration.

More than 88% responded legislative council candidates are against the introduction of new law to criminalize the speeches that insult police.

Hong Kong In-Media had also invited candidates from the culture and legal functional constituency to comment on the questionnaire. Both candidates from the legal functional constituency, Kowk Wing-hang and Wong Kwai-huen stressed in the press conference that there is no rush for Hong Kong to legislate for Basic Law article 23 on national security and they both supported free speech and information as a primary principle for future legislation work.

However, one of the candidates from the culture functional constituency, Siu Si Kwong believed that Hong Kong people has the responsibility to implement the article 23 and that Hong Kong people have too much “freedom” that sometimes hurts the society. While Chow Chun Fai, also a candidate from the culture functional constituency stressed that freedom of speech and expression is the core value of the Hong Kong society and a “must” for enhancing creativities in the city. The other culture constituency candidate Ma Fung Kwok, who is believed to be pro-government, had declined the invitation from the press conference and did not fill in the questionnaire to state his position.

Related report in Chinese from inmediahk.net

August 12 2012

Hong Kong: Google Search Engine Sued for Defamation

Albert Yeung Sau-shing, the Chairman of Emperor Group in Hong Kong is suing Google Inc for defamation. He claimed that when searching his name, both in Chinese and English, in Google's search engine, there are listed items that defame him. He demanded the court to issue injunction to Google for further distribution of the defamation articles and he also asked for compensation.

According to newspaper report, local lawyer Leung Wing Kin said that “robot distributor” usually is not liable to defamation charge. However, if a complaint has been made to the service provider and ignored, there is a potential risk that the search engine company has to take legal responsibility for defamation charge.

Albert Yeung has also sued a number of websites, including Golden Forum (Fevaworks), The Encyclopedia of Virtual Communities (Wikia Inc.) and Uncyclopedia for defamation back in March 2011 demanding the Content Service Providers to reveal the real identity of the writers and stop distributing the articles. The legal process is still on-going.

Google (google.com.hk) has already taken down at least three search items that have been listed in the defamation claim. Now when we search Albert Yeung Sau Shing, a notice appears in the search result:

Screen Capture of the notice from Google Search Engine.

As a response to legal request, we have removed three search result. You may visit ChillingEffects.org to see more reference for this inquiry.

Albert Yeung has been alleged to have triad links and has been convicted in late 70s for “pervert the course of justice”, in 1986 for “illegal bookmaking” and in the 1998 for “insider trading”. He has very close connection with mainland China government and is famous for his casino business in North Korea.

August 09 2012

Hong Kong: Citizen Media Office Attacked

Yesterday (August 8 2012), 4 masked men rushed into a citizen media advocacy group's office and smashed its computer equipment.

The organization is Hong Kong In-Media, a non-profit organization aiming at promoting the development of independent and citizen media in Hong Kong. Since 2005, the organization has supported various local citizen media projects including the independent news website: inmediahk.net, which is run by a group of voluntary editors, reporters and writers. The articles in the websites are highly critical of the government and those in power.

The attack happened around 1:20pm in the afternoon in front of two females staff, one of them is an intern student. Both are terrified. The local police are treating the case as criminal damage.

According to one of the staff members, she received a call at around 11am, a man wanted to visit the office to offer donation. At around 1:20pm, the office bell ran and a man wearing a flu mask was standing outside the office. She thought the man was sick and opened the door, then three other men jumped out from the building's stair case and rushed into the office, all were wearing masks and groves, with iron hammers in their hands. She described the thugs “professional” as they smashed all the computers in less than three minutes and left the scene very quickly. They destroyed a total of three computers and a LED TV in the office.

The organization issued a statement [zh] condemning the violence against media organization:

本社團相信,這次強行入屋破壞的行為,是有計劃及針對公民媒體的行為。該四名戴口罩及手套的歹徒,在短短幾分鐘內,針對破壞辦公室內的電腦,明顯是要以暴力行為,恐嚇香港的獨立及公民媒體。
我們譴責這種惡勢力,同時,亦憂慮更多黑手伸向香港的媒體,扼殺港人的言論自由。我們呼籲市民站出來,投入更多人力及物力,支持所有獨立於政府與財團的公民媒體!

Our organization believes that the violent breaks in is a carefully planned action against local citizen media. The four masked men destroyed our computer in a matter of two to three minutes. Their objective is to instigate fear among the community of independent and citizen media.
We condemn such evil and dark force and are worried that the people behind this would extend their reach further to other media organization in Hong Kong, destroying the freedom of press and speech in Hong Kong. We urge citizen to stand out and support independent media by donating money, resources and actively participate in citizen journalist practice which are independent from the control of government and big corporates.

A macbook smashed in Hong Kong In-Media Office by masked thugs.

July 19 2012

Transplanting mainland Chinese filter list to Hong Kong?

A local newspaper, AM730 [zh] found out that the Hong Kong government free wifi service is filtering away a number of politically sensitive websites. Even though most of the websites have been re-opened upon receiving netizens' complaint, netizens and human right groups are concerned about the lack of monitor over the filter list.

Report from AM730 on Hong Kong government's free wifi filter.

Charles Mok, a famous blogger and internet expert, is among the first to pay attention on the filter problem. According to the report, last year, when he tried to access a mainland Chinese social media platform, “FanFou” from the government free wifi service in the central library, he could not access the site. He filed a complaint and the reply was that the filter system had automatically identified the websites as dangerous and placed it under the black list. After they received the complaint, they reviewed the content and lifted the ban.

The most recent test is done by journalists from AM730, who tried to access 8 websites from 3 different wifi spots. A human right website “64tianwang [zh]” is inaccessible in all three wifi spots. While the other 7 websites, which had been found inaccessible by some netizens, have been restored upon netizens' complaint. The seven websites are: Epoch times [zh] (dissent news website), Information Center for Human Rights & Democracy [zh], Tiananmen Mother [zh], Hong Kong Commentary [zh], Youku [zh] (a mainland Chinese video platform), Boxun news [zh] (dissent news website) and FalunDafa [zh] (Falungong's official website).

The government IT office explained that the wifi service contract does demand the contractor to provide a filter that blocks indecent, obscene and illegal content (such as illegal gambling websites), yet the government has not given any specific instruction on the filtering of content.

Charles Mok believes that the contractor's filter “blacklist” is bought from mainland China and the contractor has failed to review the list. He points out that the government should publicize the “black list” and keep the filter system transparent to the public and to prevent the unnecessary censorship.

In the recent consultation on the amendment of the Control of Obscene and Indecent Article, the Hong Kong government has proposed to sponsor local elementary schools to install filter for their school network. In reaction to the suggestion, local free speech and human right organizations demand the government to facilitate an open platform for the public to monitor private companies' filter lists so as to prevent excessive censorship through the transplantation of mainland Chinese filter list to Hong Kong.

June 05 2012

China: Annual June 4 Censorship Battle

Yesterday was the annual candle light vigil for commemorating the June 4 Massacre in Hong Kong. Across the border in mainland China, it was a date for internet censorship. The typical censorship measure is the filtering of sensitive words related with numbers, time, memory, places, organizations and names, as listed by Anne Henochowicz from China Digital Time. Below is a partial quote of CDTs long list:

Individual Chinese characters:
• candle (烛): as in [wax] candle (蜡烛), candlelight (烛光); Sina Weibo removed the candle emoticon over the weekend.
• blood (血): as in bloody suppression (血腥镇压), bloody incident (流血事件)
• people (民): as in People’s Liberation Army (人民解放军), democracy (民主)
• movement (运): as in democracy movement (民运), student movement (学运)
• move (动): as in student movement (如学生运动), memorial event (悼念活动), mobilize troops (出动军队)
• government (政): as in Fang Zheng(方政), regimental commissar (团政委), one-party dictatorship (一党专政)
• crush (碾): as in Fang Zheng‘s legs were crushed (方政被碾断双腿), crush and destroy (碾毁)
• tǎn (坦): as in tank (坦克)
• ceremony (祭): as in ceremony for Tiananmen victims (祭奠六四遇难者)
Numerals and Words Related to the Date of the Tiananmen Massacre:
• 8, 8 (八), eight (捌), eight: All forms of “eight” and other forms of the numbers below.
• 9, 9 (九), nine (玖), nine
• 6, 6 (六), six (陆), six
• 4, 4 (四), four (肆), four
• 23, 23 (廿三), 23 (二十三): Today is the 23rd anniversary of the massacre.
• 35, 35 (三十五): Netizens call today May 35th to get around the censors.
Other Related Terms:
• anniversary (周年)
• today (今天): searching for today’s date.
• yesterday (昨天)
• tomorrow (明天)
• that year (那年): netizen code for 1989.
• declaration (宣言): as in “Hunger Strike Declaration” (绝食宣言)
• commemorate (纪念): commemorate 6.4 [as Tiananmen is frequently referred to] (纪念六四), Heroes Monument (英雄纪念碑), etc.
• redress (平反): recall 6.4
• Victoria Park (维园): An annual candlelight vigil is held in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park to remember the Tiananmen massacre.
• park (公园)
• recall (追思)
• mourn (悼念): as in mourn 6.4
• silent tribute (默哀)
• evening event (晚会)
• black clothes (黑衣): Netizens called for people to walk in the streets wearing black clothes to remember Tiananmen.
• go into the street (上街)
• never forget (勿忘): as in never forget 6.4 (勿忘六四), never forget the national calamity (勿忘国难)
• never forget (毋忘): same as above
• (Tian)anmen Mothers ((天)安门母亲)
• autonomous (自治): as in “Peking University Student Government”(北大自治会)

However, images can easily by-pass keyword filter and coded images like the one above have been widely circulated around on social media platforms [to make sense of the picture, you have to turn it upside-down]. As it is almost impossible to detect such coded images, popular micro-blogging such as Sina Weibo finally decided to suspend a majority of Hong Kong IP addresses from posting image to Sina public timeline (users can still view their own posts in their private timeline) from June 3 to 4. However, images uploaded before June 3 could still be shared.

In addition, the built-in emotional expression icon of a “candle” has also been removed from micro-blogging platforms. Despite all the effort, the Shanghai stock exchange composite index opened at 2346.98 (decode the 23 anniversary of June 4, 1989) and fell exactly 64.89 points yesterday on June 4. Or was this a rumor again?

June 02 2012

Hong Kong: A Large Number of Facebook User Accounts Suspended at the Eve of Annual June 4 Vigil

Every year, before the annual vigil of June 4th Massacre in Hong Kong, concerned citizens would urge their friends to attend the vigil together via Facebook and other social media. Yesterday a large number of user accounts have been suspended for unknown reason and many of the users said their accounts were suddenly or automatically disabled soon after they posted political messages, in particular urging the public to attend the candle night vigil in June 4th. [Update: There are also saying that the incident is related to the hacking of Facebook in May 31. However, as the hacking is related with the website loading, yet the suspended account notices were issued by Facebook (see screen capture below).]

inmediahk.net has quickly produced a documentary on the incident:

Here is the translation of the video script:

Beginning from June 1 2012 afternoon, many activists' Facebook accounts had vanished. The victims include political cartoonist Cuson Lo, activist Kwok Ka, legislative council member Leung Kwok Hung or Long Hair, member of People Power Jo Lee Wai Yee, and many others.

Willis Ho, a student activist' account was also banned and she described what had happened:
‘About 4-5pm today [June 1], I was together with the student union's chairperson and we uploaded a student hunger strike photo to Facebook. Once we keyed in “June 4 hunger strike” in the photo description, within one minute, my account was disabled. The photo hadn't been uploaded successfully yet. Then a message appeared asking me to logout and login again. After logged out, I wasn't able to log in again. I was very angry because there wasn't any warning and notice sent to me before that. And it blocked me within one minute. I told my friend my account was blocked. Some of my student activist friends sitting near me said that their accounts were also blocked.”

Benson Tsang, a photographer's account was suspended yesterday as well, here is his testimony:
“This is very terrible. It happened all of a sudden, affecting so many people. [From what I know] More than a dozen people suddenly were getting rid of. My feeling is that there is a net wrapping up Hong Kong. I am just an ordinary person. I don't have any political background. I seldom cry slogan in a protest and do not have any power. I am so ordinary. What I do is taking protest photos and uploading them to Facebook. I also distribute food to the homeless people and share information with my friends. What worries me is that it costs so little for them to do this. All it takes is to hire 50-100 people to set up account in Facebook and they can just keep on reporting people through the complaint system. Within 10 days, they will be able to clean all dissent voices from Facebook.”

This Facebook incident explains why the civil society in Hong Kong is so worried about the diminishing space in freedom of expression. Netizens are shouting “Shame on the Facebook hegemony”. What exactly is the problem of the current Facebook complaint system?

Charles Mok, chairperson of the Internet society said:

“My feeling is that within such a short period of time, so many users were banned. It is likely that there is an organized group of people keep reporting on those activists who spread messages regarding June 4. This is a kind of attack. If Facebook received a large number of complaints on an user within a short period of time, they would shout the account down. It has happened before. However, this time the scale is much bigger. Since they have to handle millions of user accounts, the number of complaints they need to handle is very huge and they won't be able to differentiate. They won't check on the content. The problem with Facebook is that they never explain to the users why their accounts are banned or suspended. Some people are making use of the loophole to attack others and shut them up.”

Below are two screen captures of suspended account notices. The first one is Wong Hoi-ming's account. The user claims that he received a suspended account notice soon after he posted something related with June 4:

The second screen capture is Benson Tsang's account notice. A friend of Benson visited his profile page and got this message from Facebook:

Charles Mok has collected some of the banned account information and contacted Facebook correspondent in the U.S for re-opening up the accounts. However, so far the company offers no explanation to the incident.

Below is a widely spread protest photo against Facebook's policy:

April 27 2012

Hong Kong: Artists Against Copyright Amendment Bill

The Hong Kong SAR government is about to table the 2011 Copyright (Amendment) Bill to the Legislative Council for 2nd reading on May 9, 2012. The bill is to criminalize copyright infringement activities in all technological if the infringement is “beyond minor economic damage”.

Free speech activists have been calling for a fair dealing exemption of “derivate work” in the bill but the government has refused the amendment. A group of local artists is now launching a signature campaign to stop the bill. Below is their statement (via inmediahk.net)

Say No to Stupid Copyright Protection
Say Yes to Freedom of Creation
Local Art and Cultural Communities stand against “Copyright (Amendment) Bill”

The government claims that by “strengthening our copyright regime in the digital environment helps the environment for creativity to flourish, and would generally bring a positive impact on the economy” and is therefore proposing the “Copyright (Amendment) Bill” (see Copyright Ordinance (Chapter 528)). The government is now urging the Legislative Council to pass its “Second Public Consultation on the draft Code of Practice for Online Service Providers” on 9 May 2012. According to the draft, criminal sanctions will be introduced against so-called “unauthorised communication of copyright works”. In other words, any form of creation (namely literature. drama, music, architecture, sculpture, photography, film, broadcasting, graphic design, computer programming, sound recording and artwork creation) regarded as affecting “prejudicially the copyright owners” could be illegal and charged straight by the government. Once the draft is passed, not only netizens, but all art and cultural practitioners at large will be affected, the right to create will be deeply threatened. As part of the art and cultural circle, we denounce such draft which ignored the true meaning of right and the medium of creation today, and appeals only to the interest of copyright owners by risking destroying the creativity of art and cultural communities. We find it particularly disgusting that the government pays no attention to these contemporary situations and the voices against this bill, but intends it is rushing to pass the unjust bill now, and will only consider adjusting its details later. The legislative procedure is groundless, yet its impact will be devastating. We therefore demand:

1. Re-evaluating the Right of Creation

The production in the digital milieu has taken a very different form as we have seen in the past decade. The new forms of writings, editing, creations are intrinsic to the nature of the Internet and digital technologies, for example reproductivity, remixing, mash up, etc. The new forms of creation reconstitute the public space, and also become the proper means to access to the ‘res public’. The right to creation in this new epoch must be evaluated and be granted without regressing back to law that is against its own spirit.

2. NO Criminal Sanctions

With such a regression, the government could charge any creation with or without the knowledge of its copyright owner (if any), but who really is the creator and is there any idea which comes no where. At such, any text or image creation could be potentially charged as criminal act. The government becomes the only player that values the ‘violation’, and such law will obviously be an easy excuse for political prosecution.

3. Recognize Net Culture; Respect Intellectual Sharing

It is unjust for the government to control EVERY mode of electronic transmission including Point-to-Point and social media information sharing platform in the name of ‘protecting intellectual properties’. Derivation, transformation, rearrangement and uploading on the internet is a crucial part of network sharing culture, if not already an essential part of everyday life. The government should not sheltering the interest of mere big enterprises and business, and remain blind to the alternative ‘copyright’ movements such as the Creative Commons, General Public License, etc.

4. Reforming a fairer Copyright Bill
Creation is about freedom of expression, sharing of knowledge, values, etc. However, the current draft emphasizes only the interest of copyright owners without really paying attention to creativity and the process of creations. The draft should not be drafted only by the Commerce, Industry and Tourism Branch of the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, instead all parties concerned including artists, creators, art-educators, scholars and cultural practitioners should be involved in rewriting the Copyright Bill.

The voice of Anti-Bill is loud enough that the Government should NOW call off the bill amendment.
Ban the “Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2011” now!
Art and cultural practitioners now stand together against such threat on creation.

March 26 2012

Hong Kong: Web Freedom Under Threat, 50 Cent Party Takeover

With the help of Beijing government, the Chief Executive candidate Leung Chung-Ying won in the small circle election in Hong Kong. Leung was endorsed by 689 votes among the 1200 election committee members. Many local citizens believe that Hong Kong has entered the dark age as Leung has been accused by former underground communist party members in Hong Kong of being a CCP bureaucrat and his leadership thus signifies the end of the city's political autonomy.

Reports from online opinion leaders do confirm that mainland China's style of web-harassment has entered Hong Kong. First of all, the online system of a “mock” civic referendum of Chief Executive organized by the Public Opinion Programme of the Hong Kong University between March 23-24 was attacked by hackers. Global Post reported:

Chung said, “The system has been very busy. We suspect it is under systematic attack as there are more than one million clicks on our system every second,” according to The Australian. According to the newspaper, Chung did not indicate who could be responsible for the hacking, but his team, from the Public Opinion Program, has a history of clashing with Beijing's authorities by revealing that public opinion is against the mainland's official stance.

Secondly, University Professor Simon Shen, who has been proactively analyzed the political implications of the Chief Executive election, has received a large number of email threats demanding him to stop spreading rumors. In addition his public profile in Wikipedia and Wikia has been edited with a lot of defamatory remarks. According to Shen in Facebook [zh]:

近來在網絡世界遇上一些恐嚇言論,雖然不會當真,但日前也收到指名道姓、來自163賬戶的匿名電郵,提及「Dr Shen:這是嚴重警告,請立即停止造謠,否則,3日內有嚴重效果」

Recently I have received a number of threats from the online world. I haven't taken them seriously. But a few days ago, I have received emails from 163 anonymous email accounts which mentioned: “Dr Shen: This is a serious warning. Please stop spreading rumors or you will have very serious consequence in three days”.

在《萬言書》刊登後,同一週內,我在《維基百科》的條目,忽然被加入與事實完全不符的內容;而在另一個名為《香港網絡大典》的網站,也忽然新增了關於我的條目,內容似有誹謗性,數日內就有數百改動。

After I published the “10 thousand words letter”, within a week my public profile in Wikipedia has been edited. The content is without any factual base. In another website: http://evchk.wikia.com, my profile has been added and the content is defamatory. Within a few days, it has been edited more than a few hundred times.

Such web-harassment tactic is very commonly used in mainland China among the 50 cent party.

The third case happened yesterday. A prominent online opinion leader in Hong Kong, Kay Lam's Facebook account was suspended because he uploaded a photo after C.Y Leung won the election:

The picture was titled as the beginning of a dark era in Hong Kong. Obviously, a large number of Facebook Users have filed complaints to Facebook demanding the photos to be deleted and user account to be suspended. Kay Lam posted the notice from Facebook Admin in his blog [zh]:

One or more photos that you uploaded violate Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. It is a violation of our policies to upload photos that:

Target people based on their race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, or disease

Contain credible threats to harm others, support for violent organizations, or graphic content

December 03 2011

For Chinese Netizens, SOPA is Another Great Firewall

“Now they’re copying us to build up a wall. It’s like after climbing over the wall, we then bump into another one. It’s crazy!! (現在等於他們自己也照著我們這樣造個牆,於是我們以後翻牆出去,又被他們的牆牆住[,]這簡直瘋了嗎!)”  On China's Sina Weibo microblogging service a Chinese Internet user with nickname “gap foreseeable (落差可見)” expresses concern over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which expected to brought to a vote in U.S. House of Representatives before the end of the year. The Chinese government has long been criticized by Americans for obstructing the free flow of information through a filtering system popularly known as the Great Firewall. Now it is Chinese neitzens' turn to sneer at proposals for a Made-in-America Great Firewall.

Most Chinese-language blogs and microblog messages emphasize  the disastrous outcomes that the bill could bring. What people worry about most are bill's endorsement of surveillance by web services and Internet companies to prevent “infringing” content, and the implications for individual privacy. A post written by blogger Richard (pseudonym) on the Taiwan-based website inside.com.tw introduces key concepts of SOPA and asks readers to imagine what it will be like to live under the bill. This post has been widely circulated around websites  Taiwan, Hong Kong, and China:

“試想著有一天你在台灣,過著像這樣的生活:各網站必須被迫和政府合作接受審查,你平日每天要上的網站隨時可能會被封鎖,你寄出的每封信也都會受到審查,再也沒有私人隱私。大陸的狀況?唉,一聲長嘆啊!”

“Try to imagine that, one day, you’re in Taiwan and live a life like this: every website is forced to cooperate with the government and subject to be censored. The websites that you visit everyday can be blocked anytime. Every mail you send will also be censored. There is no more privacy. As for what will happen in China [under the same scenario]? Sigh…a long long sigh…”

The Taiwanese media company Next media Animation has even made an animated clip about SOPA, in which black-suited Hollywood businessman battle Internet company guys who are backed up by net users. SOPA is personified with cops using pepper spray against people who might use pirated works.

The comments from China weibo users are even more bitter, and scorning –both at the United States and Chinese government.

“s7evenz:看來咱們終於可以向老美輸出技術和價值觀了,咱們是強大的,先進的,無比正確的!”

“s7evenz: It looks like that we can finally export our technology and value to the Americans. We’re strong, advanced, and absolutely right!”

“SemKem:期待美國佬享受與天朝子民同等待遇”

“SemKem: I expect to see that the Americans enjoy the same treatment as what the subjects of the Holy Empire have.” [”Holy Empire” is a sarcastic term used by Chinese netizens for the Chinese government.]

Aside from those sarcastic comments, Chinese blogger Michael Anti sees the introduction of SOPA into legislation as a conflict between opposing interests among rival groups.

“簡單地說,SOPA是傳統媒體和消費品行業延長黃金歲月的保護傘,卻是互聯網行業和用戶權利的扼殺者,前者只是懷念舊時光,而後者卻要誓死消滅這個法案,因此反對者必然會全力廝殺到最後。隨著今後法案在眾院委員會的審查,對它的阻擊還會越來越強烈。”

“To put it simply, traditional media and consumer products companies use SOPA as a shield to prolong their golden days. However, the same bill will kill Internet industry and users. The former is only being nostalgic, but the latter has sworn to kill the bill. Therefore, the groups who oppose the bill will definitely fight to the last minute. The blow on the bill will be getting fiercer as it is scrutinized in the House committee.”

Anti also predicts that there is slim possibility for the bill to become law. However, “the introduction of the bill does also stage a grand legislation war,” Anti concludes.

September 18 2011

Hong Kong: Electoral Office bans online sharing of candidate information

The nomination of district council election candidacy in Hong Kong has begun on September 15, 2011. However, the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) claimed that all social media activities, including Facebook and Twitter, will be regarded as political advertisement and all candidates should report to the REO two days prior to any update of their status.

Even if the candidates have seek approval, other netizens' sharing of their status without reporting to the Electoral Office would also be regarded as violation of the election regulation. Such practice would be a de facto bans of discussion about the candidates on social media.

According to Hong Kong Economic Journal's report, the REO told candidates of the district council that activities in Social Media such as Facebook would be counted as advertisement and have to report to the Electoral Office or else they risk the violation of Election Regulation. No 34(6), which demand candidate to submit their election pamphlets and advertisement before distribution. The violation of the Election Regulation would be subjected to a maximum penalty of 200 thousand fine and 3-years imprisonment. According to the regulation, election advertisement would include electron transmit messages, and they should submit a CD copy to the Electoral Office before distribution.

Any Facebook status update should be submitted to the Electoral Office two days before going online. If candidates forget to submit their “advertisement” to the Electoral Office, the case could be handed over to the Independent Commission Against Corruption for further investigation.

In addition, any third person, without prior approval forwarded the “political ads” would also violate the election law, which means netizen may have violated the regulation by pressing the “like” button of a candidate status in Facebook.

A few months ago, the Electoral Office planned to extend the “equal time” requirement from conventional media to online media during the election period. According to the draft regulation, all media, including online radio has to give equal time to each candidates for their program during the election period. Most netizens believe that the government wants to create a favor Internet environment for the pro-establishment and pro-Beijing political forces and the regulation amendment was stopped by netizens and pro-democratic forces in the consultation period.

June 25 2011

Hong Kong: Criminalization of unauthorized derivative work

The Hong Kong Government has tabled the Copyright (Amendment) Bill 2011 at the Legislative Council on June 15, 2011. The bill will criminalized online derivative works that use copyrighted material without authorization. Local info activists believe that the criminalization of re-creation would result in a chilling effect for online political satires and Kuso which are usually derived from copyrighted images.

The bill, according to the government press release, aims at

introducing a technology-neutral exclusive right for copyright owners to communicate their works through any mode of electronic transmission, with ancillary criminal liability against unauthorised communication of copyright works to the public made in the course of business for profit or to such an extent as to affect prejudicially the copyright owners.

Below is a number of controversies raised by local bloggers and netizens:

1. the criminalization of all forms of electronic transmission of copyright work, including streaming, BT and any other future sharing and distributing technology, will affect technology innovation and consumer rights.

2. the criminalization of unauthorised communication of copyright works, including the incorporating the work of others into their own pieces in cases like political satire, Kuso, re-creation and cultural jamming will affect freedom of expression and result in highly selective prosecution.

3. the interpretation of “harm” from monetary loss to “prejudice” that affect the copyright owners is highly arbitrary.

4. the lack of “fair use” to protect creator of derivative works in the bill.

Copyright Amendment 2011 Legislative Council Brief

Full Text of Copyright Amendment Bill 2011

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