A Hong Kong Facebook group on shop closure strives to survive allegations of inciting discontent

Screenshot of the Facebook page -A Concern Group on Shop Closure in Hong Kong (全港店舖執笠結業消息關注組), on April 11, 2024. Fair use.

Since Beijing imposed the National Security Law (NSL) on Hong Kong in 2020, a large number of NGOs and independent media outlets have been shut down. After several individuals were charged with publishing seditious posts on social media, many Facebook pages were closed, and most Hongkongers set their social feeds to private and avoided commenting on public posts.

The widely spread self-censorship practice led nearly all Hong Kong-based media outlets to refrain from printing commentary critical of the government.

However, during the week-long Easter Holiday between the end of March and early April, the engagement rate of a Facebook page — A Concern Group on Shop Closures in Hong Kong (全港店舖執笠結業消息關注組) — suddenly surged, and several posts went viral with hundreds of comments and shares.

The page drew the attention of several pro-establishment media outlets, and one newspaper columnist suggested that the page could be interpreted as a platform for inciting hatred and discontent against the government. The page administrator, Neighbour (革離), eventually renamed the page “全港店舖消息(開張/執笠)關注組” which is as “A concern group on (opening and closure) of shops in Hong Kong” on April 23.

Neighbour set up the page in 2022 to share information about the post-pandemic businesses and shop closures in Hong Kong. Originally, the group only had about 4,000 members, but the page became increasingly active in recent months as the city's economic recovery has been slow compared to other Asian cities. After the government ceased cashing out consumption vouchers in early 2024, many local stores and restaurants could not find enough clients to sustain their businesses.

Bad news and negative sentiment

At the same time, the government’s campaigns to boost tourism and consumption, such as Night Vibes and Mega Events,  have not had a significant effect.  The restaurant industry recently revealed that more than 300 restaurants in Hong Kong had shut down in March. Then, during the week-long Easter Holiday, local eateries lost 30 per cent of their business as more than 2.2 million people left Hong Kong while there were only less than 500,000 incoming tourists.

Against such a background, many Facebook users flocked to the page to share photos of empty streets during the week-long holiday. Several restaurants and small business owners shared their stories on the page, too. Here is one typical account from a cafe owner in Sai Kung, a tourist district:



The economy in Hong Kong is so bad, and the business environment is worse than during the pandemic as the government handed out subsidies and property owners were opened to negotiation. Now, the good-for-nothing officials only keep saying good things about Hong Kong and spreading the message about returning to normal. The property owners hence raised their rents. The business cost keeps surging while the number of consumers keeps dropping. Now you can see so many vacant floor shops all around Hong Kong.

I have run my cafe for 22 years and have never witnessed such a hopeless business environment. After 8 pm, Sai Kung was empty like a dead city. […] About one-third of our customers have emigrated. For the remaining ones, some have repressed their consumption due to uncertain future, and some have transferred their consumption outside of Hong Kong and reduced their spending within the city. The trend of border-crossing consumption has hit the local economy more pervasively. At the same time, the pandemic restriction policy [which had lasted for almost two years] has radically changed people’s consumption patterns — people prefer food delivery and cooking rather than dining out, online rather than window shopping, watching online movies, dramas, etc. rather than having a night out…

Many posts on the “Shop Closure” Facebook page have received many comments and gone viral. However, very often, there are more touches of sarcasm than sympathetic remarks. In several cases, users suggest the owners shut down their businesses as they don’t see any hope for change.

Users also criticize the business sector for poor service, expensive and bad food quality and mock the government for its policy. For example, in response to a post that quoted Legco member Tommy Cheung’s call for Hongkongers to spend more money in the city, the responses are:


Are you an idiot? The HK-Zhuhai-Macau bridge, the Greater Bay area, and the three-hour living circle are all for the integration of Hong Kong and China. Now that Hongkongers do according and make it a reality, are you telling me to go against the policy? Don’t you worry about the “troublemaker” label?


This is hurting the feeling among cities of the Greater Bay area.

For over a decade, Hong Kong has spent hundreds of billions on the construction of infrastructure such as the High-speed Rail and the HK–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge to facilitate the connection between Hong Kong, its neighbouring cities, and other Chinese provinces. Now, it takes only about one hour for Hongkongers to cross the border for a day trip.

The unintended consequence is that many Hongkongers prefer spending money in neighbouring cities where service is better, and goods and food are cheaper. Every month, millions of Hongkongers cross the border and spend billions of dollars outside of Hong Kong.

Hijacking allegations

Critical comments on the page soon caught some media outlets’ attention during  Easter, with several pro-establishment commentators and outlets claiming that the page had been hijacked by the “yellow clan” (pro-democracy clan). For example, on April 8, a newspaper columnist, Ko Tin Yau, explicitly warned that the page might “incite” discontent against the government:


As the number of followers keeps growing (almost 300,000), the administrator’s management may be unable to keep pace with the volume of comments. The page’s influence is getting bigger and bigger, and it touches upon the “business close-down” hot topic. If some forces manage to channel the direction of the wind (public sentiment), this may result in the “incitement” of public discontent against the society or even the government.

After the lifting of pandemic restrictions in Hong Kong, government officials have kept urging the public and local news outlets to “tell good stories” about Hong Kong's business environment. They have also kept condemning Western media outlets, such as the BBC, the New York Times, Bloomberg, and the Wall Street Journal, for smearing, biased and false reporting.

Under the newly enacted domestic National Security Law (Article 23), acts (including publication and online comments) with “seditious intent” that incites hatred against government authorities could result in a seven-year imprisonment. If the act involves foreign forces, the penalty would be up to 10 years imprisonment.

Amid all the allegations, on April 11, the page administrator, Neighbour, announced via a YouTube video that he would rename the page to make it sound more “neutral.”

He defended that the discussions only reflected that many Hongkongers were still concerned about the city. However, he said it was pressing for him to redirect the discussion “out of social responsibility concern”:

其實個group 用呢個名已經太多人攻擊,入咗三十萬人入嚟,如果改名後我地可以持續繼續傾落去,唔會令到個社會覺得,你因為有呢個group ,經濟差咗賴落你度,呢個係好好的轉變。

The name of this group has attracted too many attacks. Now that there are 300,000 followers, if we can continue the discussion with a name change so that people won’t blame the page for the failing economic performance, the change is a good move.

Hence, on April 23, the page was renamed  “A Concern Group on (Opening and Closure) of Shops in Hong Kong,” only that there isn't much business opening news to share.

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