The government says it is working on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for their official websites, after a protest song was played at sporting events instead of the national anthem allegedly due to “incorrect” Google results. In response to a lawmaker’s question on Wednesday, the authorities urged citizens to visit government websites for “accurate information.”

Pro-Beijing Legislative Councillor Eunice Yung had asked what new measures the government was talking to ensure that the Google search engine would display the “correct national anthem,” and whether the government would request the tech giant “update its algorithms.”

chinese national anthem march of the volunteers
A music score for the Chinese national anthem. Photo: GovHK.

The lawmaker’s question came after a series of mishaps where protest song “Glory to Hong Kong”, was played at awards ceremonies of sporting events, instead of the Chinese national anthem.

The city’s anthem is March of the Volunteers but staff had reportedly played the top-listed song after searching for “Hong Kong national anthem” online.

Google has refused a government request to manipulate search results to ensure the correct song appeared at the top spot, the city’s security chief said last month.

Secretary for Innovation, Technology and Industry Bureau Sun Dong had written to Google, requesting the company “remove wrong information from the search results” following their earlier refusal, the government said in a written response to Yung on Wednesday.

Search rankings

The government also said that it was working on the SEO of its websites, in order to raise the ranking of official webpages in search results.

“Nevertheless, search engine algorithms normally rank results based on the relevance of [search] phrases, and websites, and search volume rather than the authenticity of individual websites or their trustworthiness,” the government response read. “We recommend that the public should refer to the government website in order to obtain the accurate information.”

Eunice Yung New People's Party
New People’s Party lawmaker Eunice Yung. File photo: Hillary Leung/HKFP.

Following the first incident where the Chinese national anthem was not played correctly, the Sports Federation and Olympic Committee of Hong Kong issued a new guideline which stipulated that athletes must signal to sporting event organisers using the “time out” gesture if China’s national anthem is not played properly.

Chief Executive John Lee said last month that there was “legal basis” for the tech giant to remove inaccurate search results, as Google’s own policy stated that the company would remove content for legal reasons.

Playing another song in the place of the March of the Volunteers is considered an offence in the city, as it “constitutes insult,” Lee said.

The city’s national anthem law, which which criminalises insults to the anthem, was enacted on June 4, 2020 – violators risk fines up to HK$50,000 or three years in prison.

“The Government will follow up on whether there has been any violation of the National Anthem Ordinance or any other Hong Kong laws by any person. We will, based on the results of the investigation, take appropriate follow-up action,” the government response on Wednesday read.

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The government has said Glory to Hong Kong is “closely associated with violent protests and the ‘independence’ movement in 2019.” Though the protests attracted a handful of pro-independence activists, it was not one of the movement’s demands.

The authorities have refused to say if the song is unlawful, though it is banned in schools and police have intervened when it is played in public.

When HKFP searched for “Hong Kong national anthem” in English using incognito browsing on Tuesday night, the top result was the Wikipedia page for Glory to Hong Kong, instead of China’s March of the Volunteers.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.