Perhaps you have seen friends on Facebook changing their profile pictures to that of a yellow ribbon on a black background, or came across online images of the Hong Kong democracy protests labelled with #OccupyCentral, #UmbrellaRevolution, #HKDemocracy and #HKProtest. In light of Beijing announcing a pre-screening of candidates for the election of the next Hong Kong Chief Executive, thousands of democracy activists took to the streets.
For me, it started on Sunday night when a friend in Hong Kong posted the following message on Facebook:
Shortly after, images of the on-ground protests started popping up on social media, most predominantly on popular image-sharing app, Instagram. On Monday, reports emerged that users in China have been denied access to Instagram, while the app remained available to users in Hong Kong and the rest of the world.
Instagram Pictures Reveal The Good, The Bad And The Not-So-Ugly
Instagram was flooded with pictures from the protests, but while many showed the violent side of the event with tear gas and pepper spray attacks, netizens also captured the humanity and most importantly, the heart of what Hong Kongers are standing up for.
It’s Not Just Instagram that Big Brother’s Watching
This is not the first time Instagram has been taken down by Chinese authorities. In July this year, Instagram mysteriously disappeared from China’s Android app stores, possibly due to the peaceful protests taking place on the 17th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China.
While it remains to be seen if the blackout of Instagram will be permanent, the app now joins the official ranks of China’s social media graveyard which includes Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Line and Snapchat.
China’s censorship on #OccupyCentral has also extended beyond Instagram, to its Twitter-like social media site Sina Weibo. While Weibo users flocked to the site to mourn the loss of their favourite image-sharing app, they had to resort to using alternative descriptors for Instagram – ‘Ins’ – to prevent their posts from being deleted or blocked.
Likewise, any Weibo posts on Hong Kong or the protests were systematically removed by the Chinese authorities. According to South China Morning Post, the number of Weibo posts being blocked increased five-fold between Friday and Sunday, setting a new record even for the Chinese authorities’ zealous censorship policies. At the beginning of the #OccupyCentral movement on Sunday, some 152 posts were deleted per 10,000 messages. Many of these censored posts were captured on website FreeWeibo, with the No. 1 hot topic reflected as ‘Hong Kong’, followed by ‘Occupy Central’.
So what are Hong Kong residents sticking to for social media right now? My friend, Peter Leaf, says, “So far, Facebook remains as the go-to social media platform. Twitter is not a traditionally popular tool here for locals, except maybe for expats and foreigners. I don’t think Weibo or WeChat is used too because every local knows that those platforms are being manipulated by China…only Facebook isn’t for now.”