By now, you’ve heard the news of the Hong Kong protests. It’s one of the largest protests in Hong Kong’s history that has been going on full-steam since June over a controversial extradition bill.
The initial intention of the bill is to allow Hong Kong to extradite criminals on a case-by-case basis to other countries or regions they don’t already have extradition treaties with. However, Hong Kong’s government is pro-Beijing, and many in Hong Kong fear that if the bill passes, it would allow China to target and levy charges at random on anyone critical of the Chinese government. Those targeted would then be extradited to the mainland where they will face the law of the Chinese Communist Party to be jailed or effectively “disappeared.” Hong Kong currently enjoys their own judicial system separate from the mainland. The bill itself is now technically suspended, but not dead, hence the ongoing protests.
But in this digital age, there is an apparent war on information where many may be quick to claim that news is fake if it opposes their hardline beliefs. When it comes to the Hong Kong protests, it’s becoming clear that the news in the West and the news in China is different.
In the Western countries, where search sites and social media platforms such as Google, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are not banned as they are in China, many are flooded with news almost everyday from the Hong Kong protests as, unsurprisingly, the media in the West enjoys a higher degree of freedom of the press and speech. Nearly every major news outlet in the Western world is covering the developments that can be verified as well as writing speculative opinion pieces that, upon searching “Hong Kong protests” on Google News, range from being unbiased to headline angles that may imply support for the protesters.
Nearly every major development on the protesters is covered every day as the world is now starting to pay closer attention to a situation that, at best, will hopefully end peacefully, or at worst, one that is causing many to echo what happened at Tiananmen Square, where a pro-democracy protest was put down by the Chinese government using extreme military force that resulted in up to several thousands of deaths.
Instead of Google, they have Baidu. If you search for “controversial” news about Chinese history, you might not find what you are looking for. For example, if you search for images of the Tiananmen Square Massacre, or the “June Fourth Incident” as it is known in China (六四事件), you will see none of the photos of the actual massacre that you would see on Google.
Search terms for keywords relating to the Hong Kong protests yield different results from Google as well. Here’s what Baidu news looks like when you search “2019 Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protests” (2019年香港反引渡法案抗议 ) after being Google translated to English.
On at least two of China’s state-sponsored news platforms, XinhuaNet and People’s Daily, the largest newspaper group in China, searching for “hong kong protests,” yields just one result on XinhuaNet: a video of an Australian man at Hong Kong’s airport berating protesters who caused the airport to shut down for nearly two days.
Searching for “Hong Kong protesters” on People’s Daily doesn’t actually come up with any searches that include the full keyword, and when browsing the news related to the protests, you may see the word “violence” thrown about more and anti-protester headlines like “Protesters in Hong Kong shock world with ugly tactics”, “Chinese people voice firm support for Hong Kong police, government, and chief executive”, and “What a shame Liu Yifei is being attacked for her support for Hong Kong police” referring to boycotts over the upcoming Disney film “Mulan” after her social media posts supporting the Hong Kong police.
Much of the difference may be attributed to China’s efforts to control the narrative surrounding the protests in the country, as evidenced by their reference to the protests as “terrorism” and by recent pro-China ads that were designed to discredit and attack Hong Kong protesters that were recently blocked on Facebook and Twitter.
Needless to say, it’s very clear the news within China is vastly different and expectedly biased against the protests. It should also be noted that while the use of a VPN could also allow Chinese citizens access to news from outside China, sharing that information to the public online may be swiftly met with fines and/or jail time.