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May 15, 2024

YouTube to Block Hong Kong Protest Anthem Videos Following Court Order

Alphabet’s YouTube announced on Tuesday that it will comply with a Hong Kong court order to block access to 32 video links deemed prohibited content within the region. This decision follows a government application, granted by Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal, to ban a protest anthem titled “Glory to Hong Kong.” The court’s ruling emphasized concerns that dissidents might use the song to incite secession and pose a threat to the state’s security.

In a statement criticizing the court order, YouTube expressed disappointment and warned that the decision might undermine the Hong Kong government’s efforts to foster a digital economy and restore its reputation as a stable business environment. “We are disappointed by the Court’s decision but are complying with its removal order,” YouTube stated. “We’ll continue to consider our options for an appeal to promote access to information.”

The Hong Kong government has not yet responded to requests for comments on the court order and YouTube’s compliance.

This action is not unprecedented for Alphabet or the broader US technology sector. The company has a history of restricting content when legally obligated, including previous instances in China where it has removed content at the government’s behest.

A YouTube spokesperson confirmed that the geoblocking of the videos would take immediate effect for users in Hong Kong. Additionally, as Google processes the changes, links to the prohibited videos will eventually no longer appear in Google Search results for users in Hong Kong.

“Glory to Hong Kong,” written during the widespread pro-democracy protests of 2019, has served as an unofficial anthem for the movement, contrasting with China’s official anthem, “March of the Volunteers.” The song symbolizes the pro-democracy sentiments that have persisted in the region since the protests.

The court’s decision targets individuals who broadcast or distribute the anthem with the intent to incite secession or promote the notion that Hong Kong is an independent state. This ruling comes in the context of Hong Kong’s unique political status. The former British colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” framework, which was supposed to ensure the preservation of its freedoms.

A spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry has defended the court’s decision, asserting that halting the spread of the anthem is essential for maintaining national security in Hong Kong.

YouTube has aligned itself with human rights organizations, expressing concerns that the content ban could suppress free expression online. The platform’s compliance with the court order highlights the ongoing tension between government regulations and the digital rights of users, a dynamic that is especially pronounced in regions with complex political landscapes like Hong Kong.

The implementation of this court order by YouTube underscores the challenges global tech companies face in balancing legal compliance with the advocacy for open information and free expression. The situation in Hong Kong continues to be a critical test case for how these companies navigate governmental demands while upholding their stated principles

Jhumpa Lahiri

Jhumpa Lahiri

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