Every year, before the annual vigil of June 4th Massacre in Hong Kong, concerned citizens would urge their friends to attend the vigil together via Facebook and other social media. Yesterday a large number of user accounts have been suspended for unknown reason and many of the users said their accounts were suddenly or automatically disabled soon after they posted political messages, in particular urging the public to attend the candle night vigil in June 4th. [Update: There are also saying that the incident is related to the hacking of Facebook in May 31. However, as the hacking is related with the website loading, yet the suspended account notices were issued by Facebook (see screen capture below).]
inmediahk.net has quickly produced a documentary on the incident:
Here is the translation of the video script:
Beginning from June 1 2012 afternoon, many activists’ Facebook accounts had vanished. The victims include political cartoonist Cuson Lo, activist Kwok Ka, legislative council member Leung Kwok Hung or Long Hair, member of People Power Jo Lee Wai Yee, and many others.
Willis Ho, a student activist’ account was also banned and she described what had happened:
‘About 4-5pm today [June 1], I was together with the student union's chairperson and we uploaded a student hunger strike photo to Facebook. Once we keyed in “June 4 hunger strike” in the photo description, within one minute, my account was disabled. The photo hadn't been uploaded successfully yet. Then a message appeared asking me to logout and login again. After logged out, I wasn't able to log in again. I was very angry because there wasn't any warning and notice sent to me before that. And it blocked me within one minute. I told my friend my account was blocked. Some of my student activist friends sitting near me said that their accounts were also blocked.”
Benson Tsang, a photographer's account was suspended yesterday as well, here is his testimony:
“This is very terrible. It happened all of a sudden, affecting so many people. [From what I know] More than a dozen people suddenly were getting rid of. My feeling is that there is a net wrapping up Hong Kong. I am just an ordinary person. I don't have any political background. I seldom cry slogan in a protest and do not have any power. I am so ordinary. What I do is taking protest photos and uploading them to Facebook. I also distribute food to the homeless people and share information with my friends. What worries me is that it costs so little for them to do this. All it takes is to hire 50-100 people to set up account in Facebook and they can just keep on reporting people through the complaint system. Within 10 days, they will be able to clean all dissent voices from Facebook.”
This Facebook incident explains why the civil society in Hong Kong is so worried about the diminishing space in freedom of expression. Netizens are shouting “Shame on the Facebook hegemony”. What exactly is the problem of the current Facebook complaint system?
Charles Mok, chairperson of the Internet society said:
“My feeling is that within such a short period of time, so many users were banned. It is likely that there is an organized group of people keep reporting on those activists who spread messages regarding June 4. This is a kind of attack. If Facebook received a large number of complaints on an user within a short period of time, they would shout the account down. It has happened before. However, this time the scale is much bigger. Since they have to handle millions of user accounts, the number of complaints they need to handle is very huge and they won't be able to differentiate. They won't check on the content. The problem with Facebook is that they never explain to the users why their accounts are banned or suspended. Some people are making use of the loophole to attack others and shut them up.”
Below are two screen captures of suspended account notices. The first one is Wong Hoi-ming's account. The user claims that he received a suspended account notice soon after he posted something related with June 4:
The second screen capture is Benson Tsang's account notice. A friend of Benson visited his profile page and got this message from Facebook:
Charles Mok has collected some of the banned account information and contacted Facebook correspondent in the U.S for re-opening up the accounts. However, so far the company offers no explanation to the incident.
Below is a widely spread protest photo against Facebook's policy: