Hong Kong: A debate over Internet governance

2010-02-24 - damon

There are several online communities active in political and social mobilization in Hong Kong. One of them is Hong Kong Golden forum, its members are very critical of the Government and active in coordinating protests and demonstrations. However, recently, the CEO of the forum, Joe Lam (林祖舜)openly supported more legislation on cyber bullying.

Hong Kong Golden was taken over by Alive! Media & Communications Limited in January 2009, since then Joe Lam has become the CEO of the forum. In an exclusive interview in Ming Pao on February 20, 2010, Joe Lam revealed that Hong Kong Golden Forum had joined the OSP coalition and he becomes the president of the coalition starting from 22 of February.

Two approaches on Internet governance

At present, there are two major approaches on the Internet governance. A more liberal approach initiated by Hong Kong Association of Interactive Marketing, Hong Kong Internet Service Providers Association and Internet Society Hong Kong (ISOC HK) is a joint agreement of "Social Media Code of Conduct". In fact the agreement has been co-signed by a number of OSPs including Hong Kong Golden Forum earlier this month.

On the other hand, the OSP coalition, established two weeks after the launching of "Social Media Code of Conduct", proposes further legislation on cyber-bullying related with defamation, discrimination, copyright infringement, privacy and etc. And a number of OSPs, including Hong Kong Golden Forum, which have signed the Code of Conduct joined the Coalition. As cyber-bullying is very difficult to define, concerned netizens are worried that the legislation will create a "chilling effect" and "harmonize" the Internet public sphere in Hong Kong.

Charles Mok, the chair of ISOC HK explains that the "Code of Conduct" is both a self regulation and a defense against the police illegitimate request to ISPs and OSPs for users' private data under the excuses of "investigation". He also points out the Hong Kong government has been adopting a technology neutral stand in its legislation tradition. Crimes committed online or in the "real world" are handled according to the same legal standard and the imagination of "lawlessness" in the Internet has no ground. He believes that further legislation would give excessive power to the police to access internet users' private data.

The timing of the establishment of the OSP coalition and its mother organization iProA's political background has further politicized Joe Lam's speech. According to an article published on Hong Kong Economic Journal. iProA exchanged membership with the Hong Kong Computer Association (CHKCI) giving all CHKCI members the right to vote in the "Information Technology" sector of functional constituency in the 2008 Legislative Council election and eventually giving the seat to a pro-establishment candidate. (news report in 2008)

Community fight back

As Joe Lam's decision to join the OSP coalition was made without consulting the community members of the Forum, active users reacted with a declaration of war to Joe Lam, demanding his resignation and the withdrawal membership from iProA. A Facebook fan page named "Oppose Golden from joining iProA, Defend Free speech" was set up and 4,000 users had joined within 3 days.

Facing huge pressure from the community members, Joe Lam told the media that there was "misunderstanding" in the interview. The coalition's main concern is to set up a mechanism for dealing with all the legal threats from the police investigation as well as legal letters from individuals and companies. An official statement was issued on 23 February under the title of administrator stressing that the company have no intention to restrict online freedom of speech and that they will maintain a politically neutral stand.

According to Alexa's statistic, HK Golden ranks No.3 in Hong Kong, after Hong Kong Forum and Uwants Forum, with an average of 500 millions page view and 60,000 comments a day.