Motion on “Enacting Legislation to Combat False Information on the Internet” (2021.07.21)

MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): A survey conducted by a social media consultancy has found that Hong Kong people spent a daily average of over seven hours on the Internet last year, which is an hour longer than the year before. Nearly three of these hours were spent on viewing videos on the Internet, while nearly two hours were spent on social platforms. Almost 50% of the respondents got news and information through social media.

In this technologically advanced era when information is being circulated rapidly online, false information and fake news travel really fast. With many mobile instant messaging apps and discussion forums such as Telegram and LIHKG allowing users to hide their identities easily, netizens who can comment with anonymity believe that they are free from any responsibility as regards their reckless remarks and invented stories. As a result, some of them deliberately make up some over-exaggerating, far-fetched and fictitious stories to attract people’s attention, trying to achieve their ulterior motives by increasing their click-through rates and number of subscribers. Since many netizens only watch social media and will not do any fact check through other channels, they are prone to stay in the echo chamber and end up being misled and “brainwashed” without even knowing it.

As pointed out by a study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, fake news stories spread faster and farther than the true ones on Twitter, and are 70% more likely to be retweeted and spread six times faster. The reason for fake news stories and false information to spread so fast is that they sound more peculiar and attractive than the true ones, thus tempting people to retweet them. Of all types of information, fake political news spreads significantly faster and more widely. Actually, false information can easily lead to wrong decisions, and if it is taken as true by a large number of people in society, this will substantially prejudice our society for sure.

It is human nature to forget good deeds easily, but remember anger and hatred. Just take “black-clad violence” as an example. Many people with ulterior motives kept creating false information to incite hatred and advocate terrorist activities, thus causing serious social rift which will take a long time to mend. Therefore, the greatest problem facing countries around the world concerns the handling of fake news and false information. A number of European countries as well as Singapore have put in place legislation against fake news under which offenders are punishable by a maximum penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment.

When legislating against false information on the Internet, it is very important for the Government to strike a balance between effectively combating malicious disseminators and avoiding wronging the innocent. There should be clear guidelines in the legislation to define what constitutes false information. While the authorities should impose severe penalty on those who maliciously invent false information, it should also try to step up its efforts in educating netizens who may inadvertently repost false information how to distinguish true information from false one. As far as I know, the authorities will provide clarification through such platforms as the website of , and the “Tamar Talk” Facebook page if any false information is found to be widespread on the Internet. It is commendable for the authorities to respond in this way, but it can be done in a faster and wittier manner. After all, it is just like a race against the clock to provide clarification on different social platforms and traditional media.

Thank you, President.

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