Hong Kong tells Google to bury protest song in national anthem searches

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HONG KONG – US tech giant Google is under increasing pressure from the Hong Kong government – ​​and thus from Association China – to bury a politically sensitive pro-democracy song in its search results.

The move shows rising tensions between multinational tech giants and Chinese authorities as Beijing seeks to bury any lingering dissent over the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that began in 2019.

The Hong Kong government’s renewed concern over the song came after at least two instances in the past few months of it being used inappropriately to represent Hong Kong athletes at sporting competitions.

The accidental revival of a Hong Kong protest song has enraged authorities

The song’s appearance at sporting events abroad provoked angry reactions from Hong Kong authorities. Security Minister Chris Tang said on Monday that the government will “use all means to rectify the situation”.

On Tuesday, Hong Kong leader John Lee said the government will continue to correspond and follow up with Google, and that it is “possible to rearrange search results through ads and remove items” that have broken the law.

“Apart from its legal status, the national anthem represents the dignity and sentiments of a country and its people,” Lee said. “It’s a moral issue. I believe that every responsible institution should take this seriously.”

Since the handover of Hong Kong from British rule to Beijing in 1997, Hong Kong’s official anthem has been the same as China’s: the ‘March of the Volunteers’.

However, during the 2019 protests, protesters popularized the pro-democracy song “Glory to Hong Kong,” widely seen as the movement’s “anthem” — apparently confusing Google’s search algorithms.

Millions demonstrated in peaceful protests against an extradition bill that year, but increased violence amid a police crackdown and the shifting goals of the protesters led Beijing to impose a national security law in 2020 that has been used to restrict freedoms of protest. fighting, speech and academic research.

A Google spokeswoman declined to comment, but confirmed that the company does not manipulate the rankings of organic search results, which are determined by algorithms. The company says it only removes content that violates their policies or is considered illegal in several jurisdictions.

The top result of an English search for “Hong Kong national anthem” on Google is the Wikipedia page for “Glory to Hong Kong” with text saying some have called it the “national anthem of Hong Kong”. The next result is the Wikipedia entry for “March of the Volunteers” and the video listings are clips of the pro-democracy song on YouTube.

Hong Kong’s once vibrant film industry is now treading a fine Chinese line

In November, a lawmaker staged a protest at Google’s Hong Kong office and delivered a letter to the front desk saying that as a big company, Google has a “responsibility” to remove the “song about Hong Kong’s independence.”

Several other members of Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing Legislative Council pointed to the seriousness of the incident and demanded the government regularly inspect search results and inform service providers to remove “inaccurate information about national sovereignty”.

The anger towards an international tech company is a bit odd for Hong Kong, where access to information online remains largely free unlike on the mainland, and is part of its appeal to multinational corporations.

Two weeks ago in Dubai, the pro-democracy song was played and then cut short when the gold medal winner in Hong Kong in a weightlifting competition alerted organizers.

In November, an instrumental version of the song was played in full during an international rugby match with the Hong Kong team in Incheon, South Korea.

Hong Kong authorities immediately launched a police investigation and the chief secretary summoned the South Korean consul to tell him that the government “deeply regrets and opposes the incident” and to request an investigation.

On Monday, police arrested a 49-year-old man under sedition law for allegedly sharing footage of the incident in South Korea, thanking Incheon for “recognizing Hong Kong’s national anthem”.

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