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Facebook urged to reject outside influence in Hong Kong

On July 25, 2014, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) urged social media platform Facebook to uphold freedom of expression and say no to outside influence, after many Hong Kong account holders expressed anger at perceived interference.

Dr Benny Tai Yiu-Ting, one of the organisers of the Occupy Movement in Hong Kong, said Facebook suspended his account without explanation. Dr Tai, an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, has pushed for public nomination of candidates and universal suffrage for the 2017 elections of Hong Kong's new Chief Executive and Legislative Council.

Dr Tai said Facebook notified him that, according to company policy, an account must list the account holder's real full name. In addition, it was "a violation of our policies to use a personal profile to represent anything other than yourself".

Dr Tai set up his Facebook account in the name "Benny Tai Yiu-Ting", by which he is commonly known. However, his Hong Kong identity card lists only his Chinese name, not his English name "Benny".

He said he had supplied his full name and his picture, and had been operating his account for some time without any problems.

Under these circumstances, he did not know why his account was suddenly suspended.

A similar complaint has been made by Leung Kwok-Hung, the chairperson of the League of Social Democrats, whose Facebook account was suspended by the company without explanation. Leung, who is known by his nickname "Long Hair", is a pan-democratic member of the Legislative Council and has been labeled a radical activist. The Occupy Movement itself has complained that its Facebook account has been impersonated by unidentified people.

The IFJ Asia-Pacific office said: "It is very disappointing that Facebook would suspend an account without giving clear reasons. It is difficult to understand why a long-standing account could be suspended because an English name does not appear in an identity card."

Although the situation remains unclear, some Facebook users have interpreted Dr Tai's case as evidence that the company had been subject to undue influence.

The IFJ said: "Freedom of access to information and exchange of ideas are the cornerstones of a democratic society, which is what Hong Kong people are fighting for."

We urge Facebook to take up its responsibility to uphold freedom of expression, which is enshrined in the Basic Law of Hong Kong. We also urge all Facebook shareholders to express their concerns to the company's board.

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