China is putting the finishing touches on stripping Hong Kong of its liberty and democratic institutions. By passing a new law to squash any “subversive, secessionist and terrorist” activities in the formerly autonomous region, China has destroyed the remainder of what civil liberties and freedom of speech Hong Kongers once enjoyed.
Let Hong Kong’s despair serve as a warning to the rest of the world.
It’s no secret that China is a repressive totalitarian state. There’s no private property, no free speech, and no free multi-party elections. The mainland Chinese people live under the perpetual and monolithic power of the CCP. Those who resist, disappear. Sometimes they reappear, in a more compliant form. Sometimes they don’t.
Now Hong Kong, after years of struggle to maintain its “one nation, two systems” status that China promised when it assumed control from Great Britain one day short of 13 years ago, will fall into darkness.
The world needs this warning, because increasingly, and even in the U.S.A., we’re seeing a trend toward illiberal and repressive policy toward free speech.
To wit: Reddit has banned and purged 2,000 “subreddits” including the popular “/r/The_Donald” subreddit dedicated to Donald Trump. In 2017, Reddit’s co-founder and CEO Steve Huffman said ““… the_donald is a small part of a large problem we face in this country—that a large part of the population feels unheard, and the last thing we’re going to do is take their voice away.”
Now that promise is broken, in no small part because volunteer and company moderators simply couldn’t keep up with the task of policing the area to keep trolls, racists and hatemongers out. Doubtless, many of these are foreign actors, provocateurs and bots intent on provoking just this kind of reaction, and the inevitable rage storm counter-reaction that will follow.
Amazon-owned live streaming site Twitch suspended President Trump’s account for “hateful” comments. (N.B. Amazon owner Jeff Bezos also owns the Washington Post.) The “hate”: Trump used the term “a tough hombre.” Even the president’s idioms and vernacular (in common usage) is hate when he uses it.
Another incident Twitch cited is a rebroadcast of a 2016 speech where Trump said “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
Seems like partisan politics to me, but this is a private company, and it’s their right to limit whatever speech they want. However, when large companies shape the landscape of our civil liberty, it’s not long before government gets involved. Then possibly we’ll see in the U.S. what is happening in India.
India blocked 59 mobile apps with ties to China, including TikTok, which India leads with 46.6 million downloads. China already blocks many social media sites, including Twitter, in order to better control the flow of information in and out of the country. India and China, if you don’t know, aren’t friendly neighbors, to the point where fears of a large-scale shooting war are getting tossed around.
More advertisers are also leaving Facebook, because of all the social media companies, Facebook is the most transparent in its support of free speech. The list now includes Adidas, Clorox, Honda America, Levi Strauss, Patagonia, Hines, Vlasic, and Conagra. Proctor & Gamble (the New York Times reports) won’t “rule out” a Facebook time-out, while rival Unilever stopped all social media advertising through the end of 2020. Starbucks and Diageo also paused their social media campaigns.
These punishments are because the companies, or rather, the people and groups to whom the company executives are listening, believe Facebook has a “permissive approach to problematic posts by President Trump.”
One day, these same people could run our nation, and shape policy. Illiberal approaches to free speech and civil liberties is the rule of the day for them, when they’ve cut their teeth organizing to move giant corporations.
Let’s not leave out the Trumpists either. The speech that anti-Trump partisans are calling “hate” is in itself illiberal, in the sense of treating immigrants (legal and illegal) as invaders. Trump’s support (and praise!) of repressive dictators, his sledgehammer approach to law and order, and his ignorance of basic international relationships and facts allows hate on both sides to spring up like a deadly weed.
I daresay we (and many journalists) get more hate mail, swarmed social media comments, and physical threats, from those who say they are aligned with Trump, than we get from anarchists and Democratic operatives. Of course, we don’t see Trump supporters looting in the streets, either.
The worldwide trend, however, is problematic. While America won’t likely see people (despite wolf-crying from journalists) disappearing from the streets, we should take the warning from Hong Kong, India, and China.
Suppression of free speech, whether by giant corporations or by the government, is still suppression. It’s illiberal, and it does no honor to those in Hong Kong and other places who risk their lives to preserve basic freedoms.