The spread of fake news in Hong Kong has become one of the main triggers for the unresolved crisis in the city.
Fake news, based on incorrect or inaccurate information, is primarily used in the city to incite against, sensationalize and scandalize the security forces and the government, as a “weapon” for rioters, many of whom pursue anarchist actions, and to try to distort reality in order to gain the attention of the international community.
The problem is that fake news in Hong Kong has become like a virtual provocateur that is difficult to uncover or stop, as its creators are not limited by geographic confines owing to the internet.
The digital black campaign has also become a daily reality for the people of Hong Kong, which ironically, is fully supported by young people of Hong Kong without questioning the narratives they are presented with.
Academics have previously warned of the dangers of unsubstantiated rumors and news, which can trigger fear and deepen divisions in Hong Kong.
Some examples of dishonest reporting and pseudo-journalism
Rumors had previously spread, linked to a post on Weibo, a Chinese social media platform similar to Twitter, which claimed the People’s Liberation Army had been deployed to guard Beijing’s liaison office, which was damaged by protesters on Sunday, as well as the Foreign Ministry office, Office Executive and Legislative Council.
This hoax seeks to discredit China, but in reality it was only a rumor.
In another incident, a picture of a woman who appeared to be pregnant lying on the floor of a subway station was spread. She had fallen to the ground, it was believed following a mob attack in Hong Kong’s Yuen Long district that left at least 45 people injured – including the woman, an innocent bystander.
On social media, posts stated that she had suffered a miscarriage and were shared thousands of times. As more records appeared, public anger increased with the police over their alleged failure to protect victims from attackers holding sticks, which appeared to target protesters returning from amarch.
But then public doubts grew, because there were those who said that the woman was not pregnant. The alleged miscarriage is thus known to be a politically motivated rumor.
The most heartbreaking as well as perhaps the most sickening, is the hoax on the roster of 16 anti-government protesters who were killed by the police and later revealed to be lies.
Hong Kong reporters said the list was spread by radical anti-government groups in an attempt to blemish and slander the Hong Kong Police.
The list went viral and was allegedly validated by “a group of silent police”, who concurred that 16 people have died as a result of police violence.
The list claims that the deaths occurred during a violent incident at the Prince Edward MTR station, on August 31, and then at the San Uk Ling Detention Center.
Fake news in Hong Kong does not only drag the community there. In fact, a class of media such as CNN, is known to have apologized for its “erroneous” report after pleading guilty to blaming Hong Kong police for the demonstrators’ actions during an illegal protest in Tsuen Wan on the night of August 25.
In a letter to the police, Hong Kong’s CNN vice-president and CNN bureau chief Roger Clark acknowledged that a story titled “The police used gasoline bombs and water cannons against Hong Kong protesters” on the CNN website was “wrong” and subsequently “replaced”.
Gasoline bombs, as revealed later in an original video clip, were thrown by protesters at police officers.
Daily news conferences are held by the police as part of the Hong Kong police’s efforts to combat deception, which has damaged the police’s reputation and public trust in it. So far, this seems to be a positive step, but more is needed.
The above examples are only a few of the numerous fake or distorted stories/events presented both by recognized media outlets, but far more frequently, social media users. Nevertheless, the information war has become one of the important variables in political instability in Hong Kong.
It also proves, that there are those among the protesters and rioters who claim the internet as their battlefield, in addition to the streets of course.
To win sympathy and public opinion, they are willing to obscure reality and fuse it with fantasy, endangering the lives of others which in the end, makes the atmosphere more muddy and brings Hong Kong further away from reconciliation.