While protests in Hong Kong have largely stayed within its borders, they have had far-reaching effects on the world — including the United States.
Many U.S. businesses and organizations are not allowing members to openly support the protesters in fear of endangering business relations with China. Also, certain social media platforms with Chinese parent companies are censoring any content about the Hong Kong protests keeping users of those platforms from seeing what is happening.
The U.S. is also staying largely silent even though protesters have called for the government to intervene.
Cliff Hurst, a professor of management and entrepreneurship at Westminster College, said he is disappointed in the U.S. government for being silent on the issue.
“Usually we are supposed to be a beacon of democracy in the world and we’re supporting the strong many here in silence,” Hurst said.
Protests have been nearly constant in Hong Kong for the last five months. It all started with a proposed bill that would allow people charged with crimes to be extradited to mainland China for trial. It has become a fight for independence, freedom and democracy.
Social Media Censorship
The main social media platform where content is being censored is TikTok, which allows users to post short videos of themselves.
TikTok is owned by the Chinese based company ByteDance and must follow Chinese censorship laws. Because of this, there is next to no content about the Hong Kong protests on the platform other than people who are not from Hong Kong discussing it.
Michael Popich, a philosophy professor at Westminster, said any form of censorship needs considerable justification.
“[Censorship] seems incompatible with this idea of platforms being available for free speech and the exchange of ideas,” Popich said. “Many of these media platforms are supposed to promote [and] expand the idea of people being able to express themselves and have their ideas out there.”
Sydnee Funk, a junior psychology major, said content being censored could affect people outside of Hong Kong and the world tends to learn about major protests no matter what.
“Once we find out about an issue it’s well known throughout the world,” said Funk, who watches TikTok videos but doesn’t actively post. “So people finding out it’s being censored and not allowing other people to see it will upset people.”
Funk also said she wasn’t really aware of what was happening with the protests and thinks the censorship is concerning.
“I think it’s unfair because nobody else is able to see that kind of stuff,” Funk said. “And if you’re protesting something it usually gets known so it’s not like it should be hidden.”
Because of the censorship, some U.S. senators are calling for an intelligence probe into ByteDance to determine whether or not TiKToK poses a national security threat.
Even though the company ByteDance may be in the spotlight with the Hong Kong protests, the majority of U.S.-based companies are staying silent on the issue and not allowing individual members to express support either.
Cliff Hurst, a professor for Westminster’s business program, said he doesn’t agree with the decisions large American corporations are making.
“I’m disappointed and disturbed by those who put their commercial interests first,” Hurst said.
On Oct. 4, Daryl Morey, general manager of the Houston Rockets, tweeted an image that said, “Fight for Freedom, Stand With Hong Kong.” The tweet was quickly deleted and NBA spokespeople said his actions were regrettable. Morey was made to apologize and clarify that his opinion does not reflect that of the NBA.
Decisions like this are most likely made out of the need to preserve income, according to Hurst.
“I believe not only the NBA but also companies like Apple are being very silent about the protests because of not willing to risk their own riches,” Hurst said.
Hurst also said even if a large corporation expressed support for people in Hong Kong, there likely wouldn’t be any consequences.
“I doubt China would do much because they need Apple as much as Apple needs them,” Hurst said.
There would probably be more backlash from consumers if there was more coverage of the protests, according to Hurst.
“I haven’t seen any backlash […] from consumers,” Hurst said. “Partly because [the news] is totally consumed by the corruption scandals and the impeachment proceedings of Donald Trump. I think in normal times, the Hong Kong protests would get a lot more coverage than they’re getting now.”
Lack of outside support
Corporations are not the only ones staying silent about the Hong Kong protests — the U.S. government is largely staying silent as well.
The silence is most likely due to the administration of President Trump because the protests are something the U.S. would have been supportive of in the past, according to philosophy professor Michael Popich.
“We’ve certainly been willing to advocate for democratic movements,” Popich said.
There is also a lack of support from people outside of Hong Kong in general, Popich said.
“Why isn’t there more widespread support? I don’t know,” Popich said. “It’s not clear whether the Chinese government is open for any kind of negotiation.”
Popich said he suspects people are more concerned with issues closer to home like climate change.
“A lot of people outside of Hong Kong are so caught up with their own interests that maybe the Hong Kong protests seem prevential,” Popich said.
Popich also said the people that are supportive don’t know how to be effective with their support.
The protests do show a real movement toward democracy, but if the Chinese government continues to refuse to negotiate it could end badly like Tiananmen Square, according to Popich.
“I have a fear that this could result in some severe bloodshed,” he said.
What is happening in Hong Kong right now is something that should be affecting the wider world, according to Cliff Hurst.
“I believe there are forces in this world right now that are leading toward dictatorships,” Hurst said. “That should be a concern for all of us.”