Facebook, Twitter, Google Face Free-Speech Test in Hong Kong

U.S. technology titans face a looming test of their free-speech credentials in Hong Kong as China’s new national-security law for the city demands local authorities take measures to supervise and regulate its uncensored internet. From a report: Facebook and its Instagram service, Twitter and YouTube, a unit of Alphabet’s Google, operate freely in the city even as they have been shut out or opted out of the mainland’s tightly controlled internet, which uses the “Great Firewall” to censor information. In Hong Kong many citizens have grown accustomed to freely using their accounts to speak out on political matters, voice support for antigovernment protests, and register their anger at China’s increasing sway over the city. Now the U.S. tech companies face a high-wire act, analysts say, if authorities here ask them to delete user accounts or their content. Refusal could invite Beijing’s scrutiny and potentially put them at risk of legal action under the new national-security law. Complying would alienate longtime users in the city, some of whom continue to speak out on their platforms, and leave the companies open to criticism from politicians in the U.S. or U.K.

Among the tech giants, Twitter said in a statement it “has grave concerns” about the law and is “committed to protecting the people using our service and their freedom of expression.” Twitter said it is reviewing the new rules, “particularly as some of the terms of the law are vague and without clear definition.” Measures to better supervise the internet and foreign media were provisions tucked into China’s national-security law for the city. The law criminalizes activities in four vaguely defined areas covering secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. “Tech companies will absolutely receive more requests to remove information that is allegedly harmful to natural security from the relevant authorities,” said Haochen Sun, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong. He said companies will face difficulties especially with borderline cases, such as potential requests to remove songs, for instance, that protesters have used in antigovernment demonstrations.