Speculation has been swirling online today after seven minutes of a July 21 live-stream from Yuen Long appeared to mysteriously disappear from Facebook after it was uploaded, prompting outrage and accusations of censorship on the part of the internet giant as an atmosphere of broad mistrust continues to deepen in Hong Kong after weeks of unrest.
The footage in question came from an hours-long livestream uploaded by broadcaster Now TV during the wee hours of July 22, just after a mob of white-shirted men — some with triad links — stormed the Yuen Long MTR station and brutally assaulted scores of pro-democracy protesters and others.
The footage in question was taken after Now TV reporters followed dozens of suspected attackers to a nearby village named Nam Bin Wai. Now TV’s cameras continued to stream live as police arrived and went into a village hall as dozens of white-shirted and masked men milled around the entrance.
Officers spoke to someone inside the building for a few minutes, then left without making any arrests, or seemingly attempting to discern whether the men there had been involved in the attacks at Yuen Long.
Outrage over the sluggish police response — and their failure to arrest a single person in the hours that followed, despite numerous videos showing officers in close proximity to suspected assailants — sparked widespread accusations of, at best, police negligence, and, at worst, outright collusion with criminal elements.
Those widespread suspicions fed into the uproar over the missing Now TV footage, which prompted acrimony and accusations of censorship online.
Simultaneous livestreams from other Facebook users showing Now TV’s stream indicated that the images were indeed broadcast at the time, but days later, eagle-eyed users noticed that the seven minutes showing the police entering the village were not there.
A time stamp on the video, which remains available after being archived on Now TV’s page, shows the time jumping from 3:55am to 4:02am.
An LIHKG post from early Monday morning — since “liked” over 4,000 times — alerted the protest camp at large to the missing footage, adding a screenshot from the missing video of police officers talking to two white-shirted men inside the village office.
Stand News identified one of the police officers inside as an assistant district commander of Yuen Long, Yau Nai-keung.
Netizens immediately began to question whether Now TV had succumbed to pressure to delete the footage, which they claimed was evidence showing police had been “communicating with the triad members.”
The same day as the LIHKG post, Now TV News posted a clip titled “The missing 7 minutes” in response to the accusations of self-censorship, insisting that it didn’t know why or how the video had gone missing in the first place.
“We absolutely did not trim out any section of the video, and we do not have the power to trim videos on Facebook livestream,” the broadcaster said in a statement. “We are now looking into the case with Facebook.”
Following Now TV’s clarification and the re-posting of the footage, suspicion shifted to Facebook itself, with people calling for the internet giant to explain why the video was taken down.
Netizens began circulating a video breaking down the mystery of the missing footage, which they characterized as showing a “secret meeting” between the white-shirts and officers.
The video maintains in a title card that “Facebook has the highest authority and exclusive technology to make any alterations to the videos uploaded to their platform.”
“It is therefore questionable that Facebook did not know why this censorship happened under their control,” it continues. “We, all the HongKongers, are worried that this is how Facebook tries to intervene [sic] press freedom.”
The video also asks the “international community” to look into the matter, and urges “Facebook to have a throughout [sic] investigation and explanation.”
Netizens, meanwhile, accused Facebook of being pro-China — where the platform has been banned since 2009 and has struggled to establish a toehold — and of censoring sensitive topics.
Last night, however, Facebook issued a clarification, affirming that it “respects and supports freedom of the press” and that “neither Facebook nor NOW TV has modified any content of the live video.”
“In fact, Facebook Live does not allow removal or editing of live content by the publisher given the real-time live streaming nature of the service,” the post continued. “Facebook hereby also confirms that we have never interrupted, removed or modified any parts of the said Facebook Live video.”
It added that the missing footage was “likely due to technical reasons related to connectivity signals during the uploading process” and stated that Facebook “respects and supports freedom of the press and expression.”
Users, however, were unsatisfied with the explanation, with more than 5,000 of them responding with an “angry” reaction to the post.
“Your AutoFilter must be very high-tech,” one commenter wrote.
“What a coincident! The critical 7 mins just gone missing due to technical problem?” said another, demanding a full investigation.
Surprisingly, none of the users appeared to be pointing fingers at mainland China, which maintains a veritable army of state-sponsored hackers, and has been credibly accused of interfering in Hong Kong protesters’ electronic communications before.