Hong Kong’s leader has vowed to “proactively plug loopholes” in the city’s internet regulation to ensure “fake news” circulating online does not “harm society.” Chief Executive Carrie Lam also said the city’s law enforcement will bolster its current efforts to clarify and target disinformation on the internet.

“We need to properly supervise and manage the media and adopt the concept of ‘prevention is better than cure’,” Lam said in a speech at an annual forum on online media in China on Thursday.

Carrie Lam
Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Photo: GovHK Screenshot.

“With the rapid development of Internet technology, inherent laws may not be able to effectively deal with various misconduct on the Internet, such as malicious disclosure of other people’s personal information, hateful and discriminatory remarks, or fake news,” she continued.

“In this regard, we must constantly review the law and proactively plug loopholes.”

Lam added that the Beijing-enacted security law allowed authorities to target threats to China’s national security in the media and the internet.

The leader repeated claims that a failure to regulate “fake news” circulating online was to blame for the 2019 pro-democracy protests and unrest.

2019 protests tear gas
Photo: Jimmy Lam/USP & HKFP.

Mostly peaceful mass protests erupted in June 2019 over a since-axed extradition bill. But they escalated into sometimes violent displays of dissent against police behaviour, amid calls for democracy, anger over Beijing’s encroachment and a perceived unresponsiveness by Lam’s administration.

See also: Shifting narratives: How Carrie Lam’s response to Hong Kong’s protest movement evolved over a year

Hong Kong officials have since sought to cast the months-long demonstrations, which saw a rally of up to two million people by organiser’s estimates, as “riots” that were orchestrated by “foreign forces.”

More vigilance against cyber crimes

Lam said authorities now “paid more attention to the information circulating on the Internet,” adding that law enforcement “will strengthen and speed up correction and clarification of false information.”

The city has seen an uptick in technology-related crimes, with police reporting five times more cases than a decade ago, according to the chief executive.

cybercrime code
File photo: Maxpixel.

She added that her administration will also take advantage of the power of social media to share government information.

“The SAR government is working hard to improve the efficiency of distributing government information, including more extensive use of the Internet, mobile platforms and social media, so that the information can reach more citizens more quickly,” she said.

Her comments come as the government is mulling how to roll out “fake news” legislation in Hong Kong.

The city’s press groups, including the Hong Kong Journalists Association and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, have voiced serious concerns over the possibility of a “fake news” law.

In 2019, Singapore passed a “fake news” law in spite of fierce criticism.

press reporter journalist news camera Legco
Photo: Rhoda Kwan/HKFP.

Hong Kong press representatives have also warned that press freedom in the city are at an all time low after the city’s only opposition newspaper in the city was forced to shutter after a national security crackdown and the its public broadcaster was overhauled under the new leadership of a former bureaucrat.

Earlier this month, authorities denied a visa renewal to The Economist’s China Correspondent without explanation.

And earlier this year, the police distributed leaflets to news outlets denouncing “rumours and lies,” warning them against undermining national security. However, most examples appeared to refer to viral social media posts, as opposed to reporting. Meanwhile, Lam said in April that the Hong Kong government was the “biggest victim of fake news.”

Lam has since claimed that the city’s press freedom is in tact, citing the registration of over 200 local, mainland and international media outlets in the city.

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Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.