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Occupy Central

Hong Kong police 'friend' request: force launches Facebook page to overcome post-Occupy negativity

Foray into social media aims to rebuild public confidence post-Occupy

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 September, 2015, 3:48am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 September, 2015, 10:03am

Hong Kong police will make their first ever foray into social media with the launch of an official Facebook page to win back public confidence shattered by the Occupy protests a year ago.

The push into cyberspace - expected to start next month - will be staffed by as many as 20 officers and operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to police sources.

However, in a move likely to jar in some sections of the community, "Forcebook", as some are already calling it, will be predominantly in Chinese.

The move mirrors that of police in the United States, Australia and Britain. In 2012, officers met with New South Wales Police in Sydney, whose "Eyewatch" social media programme - launched in 2010 and regarded as one the most successful - connects the police and the local community.

In Hong Kong, a primary aim is to re-build public confidence in the 28,000-strong force that went from heroes to zeros with a large section of the community thanks to their controversial handling of the Occupy protests that started a year ago this weekend.

In December last year, a survey by the University of Hong Kong showed the police were the least popular among the city's disciplined services, ranking even behind the People's Liberation Army in terms of public satisfaction. Another HKU poll, released in June this year, said the gap between the proportion of people satisfied with the police force and those dissatisfied with it was at its narrowest since the 1997 handover.

Last night in response to questions from the Post, a police spokesman said: "Having considered there is a need to further enhance interaction with the public, especially the youth, the force have decided to launch the HKP Facebook page in the fourth quarter of 2015."

The force created an official channel on YouTube, which now has more than 13,000 subscribers, in 2013 and a mobile application was launched a year earlier. But this is their first major push onto Hong Kong's most used social media platform.

Police bosses held internal meetings with force staff associations last week to discuss the move. One of them, Henry Ngo Chi-hang, chairman of the Police Inspectors' Association, told the Post: "Police have tried to improve their relationship with society, and Facebook will definitely help."

Ngo said young officers and those familiar with social media are being recruited to work on the page as their primary or secondary duty.

Junior Police Officers' Association chairman Joe Chan Cho-kwong, who was also present at last week's meeting, said he supported the idea, as Facebook is a good medium to communicate - particularly with young people.

Information technology lawmaker Charles Mok was less enthusiastic: "It might have an impact, if they use it well, but public opinion is based on the police work overall. If you have a bad public image, you can't expect that, because of a Facebook page, you will become the darling of the society.

"You have to find the root causes, like badly handling several incidents, arresting people arbitrarily… To believe your image will change just because of a Facebook page is laughable."

In May, newly appointed Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung said he would seek to better explain the force's position to the public and "rectify the misunderstanding" that the force had been biased during Occupy.

Mok also believed the page should be in Chinese and English, the two official languages of Hong Kong. The force spokesperson told the Post written posts would be in Chinese with a link to an official source of information, which would be bilingual.

The lawmaker warned the force to be prepared for people denouncing the page for spam or indecent content: "They might have to prepare to face these issues and resolve them quickly with Facebook," he said.

Michael Leung, president of the Hong Kong Computer Society, also raised security concerns. "They are subjected to the same level of vulnerability than other organisations or even more, because of all the political forces in the city and movements like Occupy," he said.

The force said it has no plans to extend its presence to other social media networks, such as Twitter or Weibo.