Wednesday 20 November 2019

Dangerous social media — harbinger of terrorism?

Hong Kong’s algorithm-driven violence is via this platform 

I’ve commented before on the main social media used by the protest movement: Telegram and LIHKG. I’ve spent time on both, mainly LIHKG. Though I quickly tire of it, as it’s relentlessly hateful and conspiratorial.  But beloved of protesters! (I read the Chinese version, which is most of it, though there are some posts in English).

Simple example from LIHKG: there was a video labelled “Vid shows police planting hammer on protester”. I watched it right through to the very end, when you see a protester on the ground, being restrained. The final move is a policeman picking up a hammer from the ground and putting it in the protester’s backpack. Now, we know, because we’ve seen it many times, that the protesters often carry hammers, as well as metal poles, and — recently — bows and arrows. These are the tools of choice for your average urban vandaliser. So the question is: what is more likely: that the police are “planting” a hammer or that the hammer was being put back in the backpack? I know which explanation I find more likely. But at the very least it is not a slam dunk case of planting evidence.

All the post does, and does successfully, is give them yet one more reason to hate the police, who are doing their job in unprecedentedly difficult times.

Many posts are even more shocking. Instructions on how to attack police or individual officers; how to make weapons, including bombs; and how to wage information warfare and spread fear – it’s all there.

Here’s a popular post on LIHKG, from yesterday: 
“Traditional methods of mass resistance will gradually disappear. Instead smaller units will secretly aim at achieving specific goals. For example, in some places where police officers are eating or squatting, a small group of citizens will suddenly appear and attack them, causing serious injuries and then fleeing.
 “Or some officials, dignitaries and their families will be taken away on the way home to be lynched. These sudden attacks with a small number of people and without warning to the other party, will cause the police force to be dispersed and distracted, and can spread fear to the government. [my emphasis].
The effect is that when no one knows who will be next, when even the police are the target, there is no way to effectively concentrate the police for protection.”
This is not a random political fantasy post. It generated 15 web pages of discussion, 364 responses and 2,451 likes against 17 dislikes, in just seven hours yesterday. 

And it is, surely, incitement to terrorism: violence and spreading fear. If this seems too alarmist, Alex Lo reminds us that previous Chief Executive, C.Y. Leung, was mocked when he said student protesters (2014) were pushing independence for Hong Kong. I was among the mockers. I didn’t believe the threat of independence was real. We’ve learnt the hard way. It is very real indeed. And it’s ruining our city. So what’s to say terrorism is not on the way? Police have found bomb-making materials, after all.  And now the post above, urging terroristic violence …  protected by our free speech laws (!).