A senior Hong Kong official has warned that unofficial social media pages paying for advertisements to support candidates in the upcoming chief executive elections may violate election laws.

The comments come after Cable TV reported that unofficial pages were paying for advertisements on Facebook to support candidate Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

Unofficial Facebook chief executive election
Unofficial Facebook pages of chief executive election candidates.

“If there are some websites that contain, legally-speaking, election advertisements, and cause [election] expenses… that are not authorised by the candidate, there is a chance that this violates the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance,” said Raymond Tam Chi-yuen, secretary for constitutional and mainland affairs.

“We also observe that there are [currently] some instances on the internet that carry some risk. We call upon the relevant persons to take notice,” he told reporters on Sunday.

The Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance defines an election advertisement as a publication or announcement “published for the purpose of promoting or prejudicing the election of a candidate or candidates at the election.”

Section 23 states that it is illegal for persons other than candidates and their (authorised) election expense agents to incur expenses promoting or prejudicing a candidate. The maximum penalty is a HK$200,000 fine and imprisonment for three years.

Tam added that the same standards would apply to online and offline election advertisements.

Unofficial Facebook pages

“We Support Lam Cheng,” a page that Cable TV reported had paid for Facebook advertisements, denied incurring any election expenses. Lam’s campaign office also claimed that it had no relationship with the page.

“We Support Potato,” a page that campaigned for rival contender John Tsang Chun-wah, appeared to adopt a similar design to “We Support Lam Cheng,” but was earlier taken offline. It was not reported to have paid for any Facebook ads.

Raymond Tam
Raymond Tam. File Photo: Gov HK.

Former chief secretary Lam is the only one among four chief executive candidates not to have hosted an official Facebook page.

No election complaints

Tam also told reporters on Sunday that he had personally not received any complaints from Election Committee members regarding allegations that the China Liaison Office has been canvassing votes for certain chief executive candidates.

Earlier, electors from both the pro-Beijing and the pro-democracy camps claimed to have received calls asking them to vote for Lam. Local media speculated they were from the office – Beijing’s government organ in Hong Kong – but Lam replied that she had no power to prevent such campaigning activities.

Lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and retired judge Woo Kwok-hing are also standing in the small-circle election, scheduled for March 26.

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.