WSJ: Big Tech Masters of the Universe Face Free-Speech Test in Hong Kong

Activists holding umbrellas in support of pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong stand in front of the Chinese consulate in the financial district of Manila on November 27, 2019. - The group expressed their solidarity with the pro-democracy protesters of Hong Kong, condemning the increased violence by police against students and …
DANTE DIOSINA JR/AFP via Getty Images

The Silicon Valley Masters of the Universe are seeing their supposed dedication to free speech put to the test in Hong Kong where new Chinese national security laws mean authorities can ask companies to delete users or their content as they see fit.

The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. tech firms are facing a test of their supposed dedication to free speech as China recently passed a new national security law for the city of Hong Kong which demands that local authorities take measures to supervise and regulate its uncensored internet.

Facebook, its photo-sharing service Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube all operate freely in Hong Kong despite being heavily censored across the rest of mainland China’s tightly controlled internet which censors information behind its infamous “Great Firewall.”

Many citizens in Hong Kong have grown accustomed to using their accounts to speak out on political matters and voice support for anti-government protests. Now, U.S. tech giants will be forced to walk a fine line between deleting user accounts and content if asked by the Chinese government, and keeping its Hong Kong users happy, analysts say.

Refusing to remove user accounts could put the company’s at risk of legal action from Beijing under the new national security law, but complying would alienate many of the company’s long time users in Hong Kong, many of whom use their platforms to speak out against the Chinese government.

Twitter said in a statement that it “has grave concerns” about the law and is “committed to protecting the people using our service and their freedom of expression.” It added that it was reviewing the new rules, “particularly as some of the terms of the law are vague and without clear definition.”

Haochen Sun, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, commented: “Tech companies will absolutely receive more requests to remove information that is allegedly harmful to national security from the relevant authorities.” Sun believes that the tech firms will face difficulties with many borderline cases, such as requests to remove songs used by protesters in anti-government demonstrations.

Facebook-owned messaging service WhatsApp has suspended its processing of requests for user data from Hong Kong law-enforcement following China’s new national security law. The company stated that it is “pausing” these reviews “pending further assessment of the impact of the National Security Law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with human rights experts,” according to a WhatsApp spokesperson.

Read more at the Wall Street Journal here.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or contact via secure email at the address lucasnolan@protonmail.com

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