The nomination of district council election candidacy in Hong Kong has begun on September 15, 2011. However, the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) claimed that all social media activities, including Facebook and Twitter, will be regarded as political advertisement and all candidates should report to the REO two days prior to any update of their status.
Even if the candidates have seek approval, other netizens’ sharing of their status without reporting to the Electoral Office would also be regarded as violation of the election regulation. Such practice would be a de facto bans of discussion about the candidates on social media.
According to Hong Kong Economic Journal‘s report, the REO told candidates of the district council that activities in Social Media such as Facebook would be counted as advertisement and have to report to the Electoral Office or else they risk the violation of Election Regulation. No 34(6), which demand candidate to submit their election pamphlets and advertisement before distribution. The violation of the Election Regulation would be subjected to a maximum penalty of 200 thousand fine and 3-years imprisonment. According to the regulation, election advertisement would include electron transmit messages, and they should submit a CD copy to the Electoral Office before distribution.
Any Facebook status update should be submitted to the Electoral Office two days before going online. If candidates forget to submit their “advertisement” to the Electoral Office, the case could be handed over to the Independent Commission Against Corruption for further investigation.
In addition, any third person, without prior approval forwarded the “political ads” would also violate the election law, which means netizen may have violated the regulation by pressing the “like” button of a candidate status in Facebook.
A few months ago, the Electoral Office planned to extend the “equal time” requirement from conventional media to online media during the election period. According to the draft regulation, all media, including online radio has to give equal time to each candidates for their program during the election period. Most netizens believe that the government wants to create a favor Internet environment for the pro-establishment and pro-Beijing political forces and the regulation amendment was stopped by netizens and pro-democratic forces in the consultation period.