In Hong Kong, while Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on September 4 the final withdrawal of her bill to allow extraditions to China, pro-democracy demonstrations are not weakening. Virtual cards updated in real time, encrypted message channels, the increasing use of Twitter to attract the attention of the international media: the battle being waged by the population, well aware of Beijing's strike force in front of them, is also taking place online. With impressive inventiveness.
A dog emoji to represent the police, a white bubble for tear gas and a small green dinosaur for the special intervention forces: HKMap.live is an interactive site to say the least..... Launched in early August, the virtual map, fully participatory and updated in real time, is one of the most widely used by pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong. They have been taking to the streets since the end of March to denounce the growing influence of the Chinese central government on their territory - including a draft law, since abandoned (on 4 September), which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.
"The immense asymmetry between the data available to demonstrators and those available to the police has led to arrests on several occasions," explains Quartz, the young founder of HKMap.live, Kuma (a pseudo), who notes that such a platform gives demonstrators a more concrete idea of the situation than a series of messages posted on conversation groups, which are already widely used.
Specificity of its creation: HKMap.live is protected by Project Galileo, a US-based cyber security service that provides free security for certain "public interest" sites, and is thus able to counter possible malicious network intrusions.
As Quartz notes, the popularity of this map is explained, more generally, by the "liquid" nature of the organization on the ground: the location of the rallies changing each week and their progress being sometimes chaotic, one of the main difficulties for the population consists in being able to understand what is happening in real time: "Where to go from here? Where were tear gas and water cannons deployed? Where are the police going? "This is a challenge that the demonstrators have decided to solve by using all the digital tools at their disposal for several months.
"Hong Kongers use their smartphones a lot, it's just part of their daily lives," says Selina Cheng, an investigative journalist for the local media HK01, on the phone. Compared to the 2014 demonstrations, things have changed a little: this time, people are no longer just using Facebook and WhatsApp but also encrypted messaging services like Telegram, building their own tools like this famous map and broadcasting a lot of live images on social networks. »
"It's about communicating "under the radar," adds Lo Kin-hei, vice-president of the small Democratic Party of Hong Kong, involved in the movement. Applications are used frequently, but less frequently among older generations and the police. Using these services is both effective and a little more discreet, while allowing the population to keep informed. Those on the front line, in particular, can thus know if the police are already encircling them and decide on the best street to retreat. »
Recently, some media such as the BBC or Forbes have also seen a surge in the number of downloads of the Bridgefy application, which allows users to communicate via Bluetooth, i. e. by bypassing the Internet network. The focus, of course, is on the fear of a partial or total disconnection of the web: "There is a growing fear among Hong Kongers that the Internet or certain applications will be blocked by the government," says Selina Cheng. From what I can see, Bluetooth applications are not widely used at the moment, but people are preparing for this eventuality. »
Well aware of the control mechanisms put in place online by the Chinese central government, demonstrators also choose, in some cases, to remain very cautious about their online activities. Subtlety and discretion are required: some activists recommend that their fellow citizens no longer use the city's public Wi-Fi network at all and leave their mobile phones at home when they are on the streets. Or to disable, on their iPhones, the Face ID and Touch ID functions so that they cannot be used by the police to unlock them without their consent.