TikTok to Exit Hong Kong Market Over New National Security Law 

TikTok, the popular short-form video app, says it will exit the Hong Kong market in response to the new national security law for the semi-autonomous city recently enacted by Beijing. A spokesman for the company issued a statement Tuesday saying it was ending operations in Hong Kong “in light of recent events.”   TikTok’s announcement it would cease operating in Hong Kong coincides with the decisions by U.S. tech giants Facebook, Google and Twitter that they will suspend processing requests by the central government in Beijing for user data in Hong Kong following passage of the new law.  The companies are blocked in mainland China due to the autocratic government’s so-called “Great Firewall,” but operate freely in semi-autonomous Hong Kong.  TikTok is owned and operated by China-based ByteDance.  ByteDance owns a similar app called Douyin which is available on mainland China, where TikTok is unavailable.  TikTok has long denied that its data can be accessed by the Chinese government, as its servers are located entirely outside of China. But U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday the United States is considering banning TikTok and other Chinese social media apps due to privacy concerns. The law, which went into effect last week, calls for the central government to establish a national security office in Hong Kong aimed at confronting subversion of state power, terrorism, separatism and collusion with foreign forces.  The new law was a response to the massive and often violent pro-democracy demonstrations that engulfed the financial hub in the latter half of 2019.   Critics say the measure effectively ends the “One Country, Two Systems” policy under which Hong Kong was promised a high degree of autonomy after the handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997. Hong Kong is a former British colony.     

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Facebook, Others Block Requests on Hong Kong User Data

Social media platforms and messaging apps including Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, Google and Twitter will deny law enforcement requests for user data in Hong Kong as they assess the effect of a new national security law enacted last week.Facebook and its messaging app WhatsApp said in separate statements Monday that they would freeze the review of government requests for user data in Hong Kong, “pending further assessment of the National Security Law, including formal human rights due diligence and consultations with international human rights experts.”The policy changes follow the rollout last week of laws that prohibit what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities, as well as foreign intervention in the city’s internal affairs. The legislation criminalizes some pro-democracy slogans like the widely used “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time,” which the Hong Kong government has deemed has separatist connotations.The fear is that the new law erodes the freedoms of the semi-autonomous city, which operates under a “one country, two systems” framework after Britain handed it over to China in 1997. That framework gives Hong Kong and its people freedoms not found in mainland China, such as unrestricted internet access.Spokesman Mike Ravdonikas said Monday that Telegram understands “the importance of protecting the right to privacy of our Hong Kong users.” Telegram has been used broadly to spread pro-democracy messages and information about the protests in Hong Kong.”Telegram has never shared any data with the Hong Kong authorities in the past and does not intend to process any data requests related to its Hong Kong users until an international consensus is reached in relation to the ongoing political changes in the city,” he said.Twitter also paused all data and information requests from Hong Kong authorities after the law went into effect last week, the company said. It is reviewing the national security law to assess its implications.”Like many public interest organizations, civil society leaders and entities, and industry peers, we have grave concerns regarding both the developing process and the full intention of this law,” the company said in a statement.Twitter emphasized that it was “committed to protecting the people using our service and their freedom of expression.” Likewise, Google said in a statement that it too had “paused production on any new data requests from Hong Kong authorities” and will continue reviewing details of the new law.Social platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and WhatsApp have operated freely in Hong Kong, while they are blocked in the mainland under China’s “Great Firewall.” Though social platforms have yet to be blocked in Hong Kong, users have begun scrubbing their accounts and deleting pro-democracy posts out of fear of retribution. That retreat has extended to the streets of Hong Kong as well. Many of the shops and stores that publicly stood in solidarity with protesters have removed the pro-democracy sticky notes and artwork that adorned their walls. Hong Kong’s government late Monday issued implementation rules of Article 43 of the national security law, which give the city’s police force sweeping powers in enforcing the legislation and come into effect Tuesday.Under the rules, platforms and publishers, as well as internet service providers, may be ordered to take down electronic messages published that are “likely to constitute an offence endangering national security or is likely to cause the occurrence of an offence endangering national security.”Service providers who do not comply with such requests could face fines of up to 100,000 Hong Kong dollars ($12,903) and receive jail terms of six months.

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Facebook Advertisers Boycott, Demand Changes

More than 600 companies say they won’t advertise on Facebook and its sister firm, Instagram, in July, as part of a campaign called Stop Hate for Profit. The goal? Force Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to address his firm’s negative effects on society, says Jim Steyer, chief executive and founder of Common Sense Media, a children’s media education non-profit, and one of the boycott’s backers. “They are amplifying hate speech, racist messages, white supremacy messages, all sorts of misinformation and dishonest political advertising,” said Steyer. “So, we asked the major advertisers of America to pause their advertising on the platform for at least a month.”Just weeks ago, Steyer joined with organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP and Color of Change to FILE – Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington.There’s no shortage of ideas of how to fix Facebook. Some call for regulations. Others say break up the company and make Zuckerberg, who has controlling shares in the firm, answerable to a board. Another idea: Hire ethicists to help with decision-making and give them power in the organization, says Don Heider, executive director of the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University. “I don’t think there’s any one core set of values,” he said. “I wish there was. And I wish it was some sense of trying to help the common good or trying to protect human rights or something that really helped them be a guiding principle for the company.” Facebook says it doesn’t tolerate hate speech and points to its automated system to remove inflammatory ads before users see them.Label content that breaks rulesRecently, the firm agreed to an external audit of how it is doing to make sure advertisers do not appear next to harmful messages, one of the boycott organizer’s demands. Facebook also said it would label content that breaks its rules, even those posted by an elected official. And it will remove posts that Facebook thinks may lead to violence or deprive people’s right to vote. These are important steps. But some critics argue it’s not enough.“Yes, they can change,” said Eisenstat. “It’s a question of whether they want to. Can they change as long as they continue to pursue being the biggest most dominant company in the world that absolutely has the monopoly over all conversations how we get our content, how we connect with people? Possibly not.”  The boycott organizers say their campaign is going global. But it will take time before they know if their efforts have a lasting effect.      

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Trump, Biden Fight for Primacy on Social Media Platforms

On an average day, President Donald Trump sends about 14 posts to the 28 million Facebook followers of his campaign account. His Democratic rival, Joe Biden, delivers about half that many posts to an audience of just 2 million.The numbers are similarly skewed in other spheres of the social media landscape.On Twitter, Trump’s 82.4 million followers dwarf Biden’s 6.4 million. The president has spent years cultivating a ragtag digital “army” of meme makers and political influencers who retweet campaign messages hundreds of times daily. Trump is outspending Biden on Google and YouTube advertising by nearly 3 to 1.  As his reelection bid faces growing obstacles, his primacy in the dizzying digital world is one of his top advantages, giving him a massive platform to connect with supporters and push a message that ignores his vulnerabilities related to the pandemic, unemployment and race relations. Biden and his allies are now working feverishly to establish a social media force of their own.  For the first time, Biden outspent Trump on Facebook advertising in June, pouring twice as much money into the platform as the president. His campaign is recruiting Instagram supporters to hold virtual fundraisers. And it’s plotting ways to mobilize the power of hundreds of teens on TikTok who reserved tickets for Trump’s recent Oklahoma campaign rally and took credit for sinking the event by artificially inflating the crowd count before it began.  But Trump’s head start may be tough to overcome.”Vice President Biden and Trump have very different challenges right now,” said Tara McGowan, the founder of liberal digital firm Acronym and former digital director for the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA during the 2016 campaign. “Trump needs to hold his base … and Vice President Biden needs to define and in a lot of ways introduce himself to you new voters, and potential supporters.”But Trump’s unimpeded access to the digital microphone is facing its limits.Twitter is beginning to fact check Trump’s posts, including one that made unfounded claims that mail-in voting would lead to fraud. The company also alerted users when the president posted a manipulated video, and it hid his Twitter threat about shooting looters in Minneapolis.Under pressure in June as major companies yanked advertising from its site, Facebook promised it would label Trump posts when they break rules around voting or hate speech. Video messaging platform Snapchat last month also said it would keep the president’s account active and searchable but would stop showcasing his profile on the platform. And in a move to clamp down on hate and violent speech, the online comment forum Reddit decided to ban one of the president’s most prolific fan forums, The_Donald.FILE – Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign rally at Renaissance High School in Detroit, Michigan, March 9, 2020.Trump and Biden have strikingly divergent tactics on social media.A centerpiece of Trump’s digital efforts is the Team Trump Online! nightly live broadcasts streamed on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Twitch, an online streaming platform. The broadcasts feature top Trump surrogates including daughter-in-law Lara Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.Trump also tweets with far greater velocity, sending more than 160 Twitter messages during a seven-day period starting June 14, an Associated Press analysis of Trump and Biden’s accounts reveals. More than 50 of Trump’s posts were retweets from an assortment of users that included the U.S. Army, far-right meme makers, conservative news outlets, little-known congressional candidates and anonymous accounts that in some cases promoted conspiracy theories.  The president’s steady retweets of everyday users helps fans feel connected to him, said Logan Cook, a Kansas internet meme maker whose work Trump has regularly promoted on his social media accounts.  “President Trump’s team, they’re blending in with social media culture, which is also why they’re getting into so much trouble,” said Cook, whose Twitter account @CarpeDonktum was permanently suspended last week for copyright violations. His memes are controversial because he alters videos to mock Trump’s political rivals, including Biden.  Twitter users celebrate being retweeted by the president, or his inner circle, like the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., who has more than 5 million followers.  Trump’s followers see producing sardonic memes or videos as a game where the ultimate prize is a retweet from the president, said Misha Leybovich, a tech entrepreneur who produces social media engagement products that support Democratic candidates and causes.  “The fan base is having a blast,” Leybovich said. “If they never gave the fans the ability to be amplified by the president, the stakes would be lower.”Biden has stuck to a more conventional approach, tweeting nearly 60 messages during that same time, only a handful of which were retweets from verified accounts, like former President Barack Obama, or established news outlets. Every video Biden tweeted out over that week in June was produced by his own campaign.But the effectiveness of campaign messaging isn’t just about numbers, said Jennifer Mercieca, a political rhetoric professor at Texas A&M University.  “If you want to compare the attention and engagement metrics, it might look like Trump is way ahead, but that attention and outrage isn’t always good,” Mercieca said. “When a child is throwing a tantrum, you’re giving them attention, but it’s not because you approve of their behavior.”Indeed, the Biden campaign argues that despite being outmatched on social media, their engagement is strong.”The way that they treat their supporters, it’s about distraction. It’s about keeping them angry,” said Rob Friedlander, Biden campaign digital director. “For us it’s about, how do we make you feel like you’re brought into the campaign.”The campaign is creating Facebook groups, holding virtual events on Instagram and partnering with social media influencers who create posts in support of the campaign.  One such group is an Instagram account called Bake for Biden, which bakes bread and ships sourdough starters across the country in exchange for donations to Biden. The group was born out of what Brooklyn marketing executive Domenic Venuto first saw as an inadequate response from Biden’s campaign to Trump’s taunts and conspiracy theories.  Venuto said he’s come to understand the campaign’s digital strategy of ignoring Trump’s attacks.  “They’ve been very good at promoting values and shying away from being baited into the same tactics (as the Trump campaign),” Venuto said. 
 

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Britain Poised to Ban Huawei 

The British government is set to end the participation of Chinese telecom giant Huawei in the building of Britain’s 5G phone network — a policy about-turn that will further deteriorate London’s strained relations with Beijing, but will please Washington, according to British media reports. The major policy change follows a fresh reassessment by Britain’s National Cyber Security Center, or NCSC, on the eavesdropping risks posed by the Chinese company, according to Britain’s Sunday Telegraph newspaper. British officials have confirmed to VOA the newspaper report is accurate. Previously the NCSC, a department within Britain’s intelligence agency GCHQ, said the security risks posed by Huawei could be safely managed and mitigated, a view not shared by U.S. intelligence agencies. But the imposition last month of new U.S. restrictions on Huawei has altered the picture, the NCSC warns. Britain’s cybersecurity chiefs now conclude the sanctions, which block Huawei from using components and semi-conductors based on any American intellectual property, will mean the telecom giant will have to use “untrusted” parts, increasing security risks. British officials are drawing up a timetable for the removal of Huawei equipment already installed in the 5G network. British telecom firms BT and Vodafone have asked the government to give them until 2030 to strip Huawei components from the existing 5G infrastructure, but officials say Downing Street wants much speedier action, even if it means slowing down the roll-out of the new network. Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the House of Commons foreign affairs committee, welcomed the reports, saying, “The government’s change of heart is very welcome.” The planned policy reversal comes amid a mounting diplomatic dispute between Britain and Beijing over the introduction by the Chinese government of a new draconian security law that allows Chinese security agencies to arrest pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong, a former British enclave. To Beijing’s anger, Britain announced Hong Kong residents would be allowed to move to Britain. A sign reading “Boris Stop Huawei” is seen next to the M40 motorway, Tetsworth, Britain, May 1, 2020.In January, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson decided to allow Huawei a limited role in building the less critical parts of the country’s next-generation cellular network, dealing a blow to a U.S. campaign urging allies to boycott the telecom giant. For more than a year, the Trump administration has urged Britain and other allies to ban Huawei from participating in the development of fifth-generation wireless networks. U.S. officials say there’s a significant risk that the company, which has close ties to Chinese intelligence services, will act as a Trojan horse for Beijing’s espionage agencies, allowing them to sweep data up and gather intelligence. FILE – A pedestrian walks past a Huawei product stand at an EE telecommunications shop in central London, Britain, April 29, 2019.Ahead of Johnson’s go-ahead, U.S. officials warned London that giving Huawei the green-light could jeopardize intelligence-sharing between Britain and the United States. The British prime minister sought to mollify Washington — and critics within his own ruling Conservative party — by allowing Huawei to build only 35 percent of Britain’s 5G infrastructure and to exclude it from critical networks and from locations near nuclear plants and military bases. Pressure has been mounting on Johnson to reverse his decision from within his own party, pressure that has been fueled by the coronavirus pandemic and accusations that Beijing downplayed the danger of the novel virus. A newly-formed Conservative group in the House of Commons called the China Research Group has been urging Johnson to take a robust line with China’s communist leaders on a range of issues, from Beijing’s security crackdown in Hong Kong to Huawei. The group has attracted the support of dozens of Conservative lawmakers and around 60 had warned Johnson that they would mount a backbench rebellion, if he did not block Huawei. Johnson recently instructed officials to draft plans to limit Britain’s reliance on China for vital medical supplies and other strategic imports in light of the coronavirus crisis. Britain is strategically dependent on China for 71 critical goods categories, including pharmaceutical ingredients and consumer electronics, according to trade data analyzed by the Henry Jackson Society, a foreign policy think tank based in London. Last month, Christopher Patten, a former Conservative minister and Britain’s last Hong Kong governor, warned Johnson publicly about Huawei, saying, “If people argue we should deal with Huawei because they’re just like any other multinational company, that is for the birds: if they come under pressure from the Communist government to do things which are thought to be in Beijing’s interest they will do it.” With Britain poised to block Huawei, it would leave Canada as the only member of the so-called ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence-sharing partnership, which includes the U.S., Britain Australia and New Zealand, not yet to have excluded Huawei from involvement in 5G development. Huawei issued a statement Sunday saying it remains “open to discussions with the British government” and accused the U.S. of seeking to boost the market position of American companies. Company officials say an any decision to reverse its role in Britain’s 5G network is based is based on “mistaken assumptions.” A Huawei spokesman said: “Huawei is the most scrutinized vendor in the world and we firmly believe our unrivaled transparency in the UK means we can continue to be trusted to play a part in Britain’s gigabit upgrade. It’s important to focus on facts and not to speculate at this time.”  

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Advertisers Boycott Facebook, Demand Changes

Companies such as Coca-Cola, Adidas, Ford and Lego are boycotting Facebook this month, pulling ads that appear on the social network in the United States. Some advertisers are part of an organized boycott demanding the company do more to crack down on hate speech, conspiracies and misinformation on its site on topics such as voting. Facebook has responded with some changes but will it be enough? Michelle Quinn reports.
Camera: Deana Mitchell

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