What would it mean if Facebook and Google left Hong Kong?

Facebook and Google are weighing up their options after a new security law out of Beijing that “mandates police censorship and covert digital surveillance” in Hong Kong came into practice.

They seem to have three options:

  1. Comply, giving up on their ideals of free speech
  2. Refuse and face fines and potentially jail time
  3. Pull out of Hong Kong

TikTok have taken path three. What would it mean if Facebook and Google did the same?

Karen Chiu explains how popular the platforms are for the South China Morning Post (which is owned by Alibaba, a multibillion dollar Chinese tech company):

Facebook, Hong Kong’s most popular social network, has a penetration rate of over 80 per cent, according to the latest available data from Statista. WhatsApp, the top messaging app, trails not far behind at just under 80 per cent.

Instagram comes in at around 60 per cent. On the other hand, the mainland’s unrivalled social king, WeChat, is used by just 54 per cent in Hong Kong.

Tsao said Google, which pulled its search engine out of the mainland in 2010 after the company suffered a major hack, is ubiquitous in Hong Kong.

People in Hong Kong would face a terrible situation if Facebook, Google, and Twitter left the region. There are few viable options for information sharing if China’s Great Firewall arrives in earnest. VPNs would only be so effective: the law applies regardless of where the platform or server is located.

This, of course, is the point. The law put in place by Beijing is about stifling dissent. It’s about controlling information, one way or the other.