Free speech advocates in Hong Kong are reportedly changing their Twitter profile pictures to that of U.S. President Donald Trump after he was permanently banned from the network last week.
The activists saw parallels with Twitter’s decision and the manner in which the Chinese Communist Party silences voices that oppose their authoritarian regime, which includes strict oversight of social media use.
Coconuts Hong Kong reports that users in an online forum LIHKG called on one another to replace their profile pictures with the now-iconic photo Trump had on his account throughout his presidency.
— HoSaiLei🃏 (@hkbhkese) January 9, 2021
They also urged one another to switch to free speech networks MeWe, Gab, and Parler, whose “free speech, no-censorship policies,” Coconuts Hong Kong disapprovingly notes, “have allowed misinformation and baseless conspiracy theories to spread unchecked.”
Twitter justified the permanent suspension of President Trump’s account, from which he has regularly sparred with (or, some might say, relentlessly trolled) the mainstream media and his political opponents, on the basis that he had “incited” violence on Capitol Hill last week.
The network claimed to be concerned that his words could “incite” further violence, although Trump did explicitly call on his supporters to exercise peaceful protest both just before and after the events of January 6th.
“I think [Twitter’s banning of Trump] is not acceptable,” one Hong Kong Twitter user who had changed their icon to Trump’s photo told Coconuts.
“Why has the company not banned other accounts also appearing to spread fake news or incite violence?” they added.
The outlet notes that “Hongkongers’ divisive views of Trump have driven a wedge through the city’s pro-democracy movement, supporters of which pride themselves on unity against a common enemy—the Chinese Communist Party.”
“Many Hongkongers favor Trump due to his anti-China stance, while those identifying closer with left-wing ideology see his peddling of election misinformation and refusal to accept defeat in the presidential vote as an assault on US democracy,” it adds.
Indeed, some who changed their profile pictures made clear that this wasn’t an endorsement of Trump and his policies, but a show of solidarity with that true classical liberal spirit of free speech.
Those who have changed their profile pic may NOT necessarily be President #Trump's supports, but simply because of the distaste for the censorship.
It has nothing to do with him personally but about defending the freedom of speech.
Thank you. pic.twitter.com/kufPE6TuuZ
— HoSaiLei🃏 (@hkbhkese) January 10, 2021
However, figures who have at times been somewhat adversarial to President Trump agree it is a dangerous overstep.
World leaders such as Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, and two French ministers have openly denounced the move as dangerous to democracy and the principles of free speech.
“The regulation of digital giants cannot be done by the digital oligarchy itself,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire Le Maire said, characterizing Big Tech as “one of the threats” to democracy.
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