Blocking online forums not the solution for HK protests crisis

September 05, 2019 10:23
Any attempt to clamp down on online messaging platforms or discussion forums to tackle the Hong Kong protest movement would be unwise, the author writes. Photo: Reuters

There has been speculation that the Hong Kong government is looking at invoking the Emergency Regulations Ordinance to quell the months-long protests in the city.

The ordinance would allow the chief executive to censor magazines, maps, photos and communications, among other special powers. Also, the top leader can decide on the penalties for the offences drawn under the emergency regulations, with a maximum of life imprisonment.

It’s said that the government may shut down certain online forums and instant messaging apps such as Telegram that are used by protestors.

It is doubtful if such communications clampdown, if it indeed comes about, can really prevent democracy activists from passing messages to each other.  

The internet has created a global village. Protestors can use VPN, or virtual private networks to bypass any restrictions even if the government blocks some websites or instant messaging apps.

Free flow of information is always a signature cornerstone of Hong Kong. How can we talk about free speech if the government blocks information flow?

If government can shut down Telegram today, it can restrict access to Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp or other online discussion forums one day.

The government is mistaken if it thinks the problem can be resolved by using force both in the physical world and online.

What it should really focus on is opening a dialogue with citizens in a sincere manner to tackle the city’s unprecedented crisis.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept 4

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Information Technology Federation honorary chairman