Fact check this: Who do YOU believe? Who do you trust?
Updated: Feb 21, 2020
It’s now well-recognised that the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong has won the hearts and minds of the masses. It has mobilised protest action in many nations, especially with the help of social media, and spurred legislators to act. In Hong Kong (HK) itself, the pro-democracy movement has won District Council Elections with a landslide victory, but the good fight is not over yet. Only one of the protesters’ five demands have been met, the threat of imprisonment hangs over hundreds of those arrested, the Chief Executive Carrie Lam is still in office and governance has not changed one iota. There has not been any recent ‘dialogue’, the IPCC Police ‘investigation’ is in disarray after co-opted international experts resigned, and the judiciary has faced a serious challenge over the government's face mask ban.
Every other day or week we are witness via the media, to and fro, to a kind of fake news point-scoring game. It's all about who controls the narrative, and who has the last word. We should remember that who owns and runs the various media, and where it operates from can greatly influence what it covers, and the approach it takes. Reporters are under tremendous pressure, and it has been noted that China is the biggest jailer of journalists. It's seldom clear what is being censored, and moreover, HK is not the only place experiencing disinformation campaigns.
The HK Police Force (HKPF) who have lost the trust of the public are doing their best to maintain the stoic appearance of being in control. Online media has exposed police brutality, attacks on journalists and medical personnel, and evidence tampering. While public opinion surveys in October found support for the HK police force had fallen drastically, just a month later the Police chief claimed the public has full confidence in the force. Public views of the HKPF tend to be polarized. The number of crimes solved by the HKPF has hit a ten year low. They are still holding their daily media briefings despite many people generally dismissing what they say as biased or outright lies and excuses that conceal the truth. The protesters are on the offensive, such as holding an exhibition to illustrate the police excesses. Police retort that protesters and lawbreakers are spreading lies and misinformation, and that not speaking out against violence risks international support for the protest movement and allows it to fester.
Carrie Lam has always supported her Police force, and often been critical of protest strategies and the protesters themselves. Although she is on record as having said that she brought havoc to Hong Kong, she has recently taken to shifting the blame to teachers and schools. The HK government has said that untruths about freedom in HK are pushing the SAR into chaos. Needless to say pro-democracy legislators were furious when it was announced in mid-December that the government had spent close to HK$1 billion on police overtime pay since Hong Kong protests broke out in June 2019.
When the UN's human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, wrote an opinion piece published in the local South China Morning Post suggesting the HK leader prioritise "meaningful, inclusive" dialogue, the Chinese central government accused her of "emboldening radical violence". CCP commentators like Xie Feng, commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China, and other bodies have insisted the protests are the product of foreign interference. They go as far as to suggest things like the protesters are paid by America, and even though the myth has been debunked it is still popularly believed and repeated by CCP supporters. American support for the democracy movement in HK is now, however, unquestionable. In December Beijing officials emphasised that the concept of a universal human rights standard did not fit with Chinese values.
Each is trying to win legitimacy for the arguments they make, to show they are right and that the protest movement is variously harming Hong Kong, that it’s the result of foreign interference, that demonstrators are radicals and terrorists. They desperately want to be back on the side of public opinion, and are not without a strategy to gain sympathy and win support. But is it an honest method, or one that involves a measure of trickery, deception or skullduggery? Will such a method make headway against the pro-democracy majority?
In social media the 50cent army of mainland China has been making its presence apparent for quite a long time. It’s not just the strange usernames they give themselves when they open new subscriber accounts in Facebook or Twitter, or their poor use of English, but rather the trite arguments that are expressed again and again. They routinely batter the British, praise the HK Police, demonise democracy, and punish the protesters, just to champion China! We have witnessed their tactic of swamping social media so much that dissenting voices are drowned out. Social media became the flashpoint of conflict between the U.S. and China, dragging HK into that fray. We know too well that from behind mainland China's Great Firewall the trolls spread misinformation – deliberately or otherwise. There have been calls for more coordinated efforts to combat this misinformation.
A well-documented incident that illustrates how bias and selective reporting feeds the beliefs to which HK’s pro-democracy protesters and its pro-government supporters ascribe, concerns the reports of a taxi being driven into protesters in Sham Shui Po on 6th of October. One side believed the taxi driver deliberately rammed the protesters injuring many and deserved to be punished. The other side believed the taxi driver’s action was unintentional and had harmed no one, so the attack he suffered was malicious and unjust.
In Hong Kong there seems to be another campaign being fought on a different front. It’s about agitators, agent provocateurs or decoys and using insurgency to discredit the protesters and their social movement. On the one hand there is Police misconduct, which has been variously catalogued and documented. There are cases in which Police have planted evidence on arrested protesters. It still staggers belief that Carrie Lam stands by the HKPF despite calls from respected organisations like the United Nations, Amnesty International and lawyer groups, plus the copious evidence that the HKPF have undermined the very law they are meant to uphold. On the other hand is the possibility, or likelihood that “set-ups” are being discovered by Police and reported as genuine news. The theory is that either undercover police themselves set these incidents up, or the incriminating evidence is planted by others – local opponents of the democracy movement, or perhaps cross-border mainland agents. The intention is always to portray protesters, whether peaceful or not, as being responsible and to discredit the broader movement.
In July 2019 the HKPF arrested three men in connection to a haul of explosive materials located in a Tsuen Wan industrial building. In October a "suspect" bomb was deposited at an intersection in Prince Edward during a protest. In early December two fully functional bombs were located, this time at the entrance to a school in Wan Chai. While Police have been able to gather some intelligence related to recent finds, speculation remains about the manufacture and intended use of the devices.
Early in December 2019, and not long after the end of the Police siege of HK Polytechnic University, the HKPF received a "tip-off" about a large quantity of potentially dangerous chemicals stashed in a public reserve near Tsuen Wan. While there was nothing to link the chemicals found with pro-democracy protesters, it did not stop speculation about either the 'tip-off' or the source of the chemicals. It is interesting that at about this time a new YouTube channel appeared, titled "Hong Kong Violence Resistance" featuring video footage of the Tsuen Wan chemical discovery. Although there was nothing conclusive to link the chemical stash with pro-democracy protesters, among its small subscriber base the commentaries certainly assumed there was.
Following early-morning raids by HKPF on the eve of the 8 December 2019 mass protest, 11 people were arrested for possession of a range of offensive weapons, including a handgun, daggers and knives, retractable batons, fire crackers and pepper spray. Police intelligence suggests that some kind of major attack scheduled to take place during the protest was effectively foiled.
At the conclusion of the peaceful mass protest on 8 December 2019, the entrances of the Court of Final Appeal in Central and the High Court in Admiralty were firebombed by persons unknown.
How could a leaderless movement be so organized as to have an armoury? Surely if they were, they would be circumspect and secretive so as to avoid capture? The protesters do have a code of conduct and their own modus operandi – Be water. Still there is some division amidst the ranks, between the more radical ones who embrace violent means to emphasise their point, and others who stick to peaceful non-violent means and sheer mass to persuade government (although it's repeatedly ignored).
News of bombs is a bit scary given HK's history. In 1967 there were riots in the SAR that began over labour issues but evolved into more of an ideological battle, with thousands of bombs being detonated and dozens losing their lives in the strife. What is perhaps most concerning about these reports is the escalation in their number and seriousness.
After the HK District Council elections all sides are most likely revising their strategies in light of their current agenda and uncompromising aims. It may be just a matter of time before more than reputations or property are damaged. It's not clear at this stage who is winning Hong Kong's information war.
This thread (4 July, 2019) is about protesters' general preference for social media other than Facebook.