Members of Voice of Loving Hong Kong lodge a complaint to the police at Mong Kok Police Station after their Facebook page was closed after reported by netizens.

Cyberattacks on pro-Beijing groups should worry Hong Kong

Lau Nai-keung says they raise questions about outside interference

Last week, the Facebook page of the pressure group Voice of Loving Hong Kong was suddenly deleted. This was the fourth similar incident in recent weeks, after the shutdown of the pages of three other groups, including Caring Hong Kong Power. The Voice of Loving Hong Kong suspected foul play and reported it to the police as a type of cyber-bullying.

There have been rumours that Facebook and the CIA were behind it all. To most rational citizens, such conspiracy theories may seem too far-fetched. But in the current political atmosphere and after the Edward Snowden saga, anything seems possible.

For one thing, this is not going to ease the tension and mistrust between the opposing political camps, at a time when debate is beginning on constitutional development leading to universal suffrage in 2017.

This type of cyber-bullying has become a common occurrence against pro-establishment websites and web pages. I, for one, have been a victim for more than a year; there are statements circulating online calling for a concerted attack on a site associated with me.

To target a Facebook page, all you need is enough internet users complaining about certain postings. As for attacking a standalone website, there are ready-made programs that can generate thousands of visitor hits on a the website in a very short time frame, jamming the server and the bandwidth leading to an instant shutdown. I was told this is a very simple trick to most geeks, and it is also available in the market for a small fee.

From my personal experience, the police are usually quite reluctant to take seriously complaints of this type of cyber-bullying. To them, as long as no one gets physically hurt and no property is damaged, there are other more urgent things to attend to. They are also wary of getting tangled up in political disputes because they don't want to be seen as taking sides or be accused of political persecution.

But in the latest case, the Voice of Loving Hong Kong would not let it go. Once the incident was in the public domain, the police couldn't ignore it. The whole pro-establishment camp is closely monitoring developments.

Facebook has been put on the spot. It has an office in Hong Kong but is hiding somewhere in "an undisclosed location". As the most popular social media in Hong Kong with huge advertising revenues, this secrecy is uncalled for and makes things all the more suspicious; so much so that Facebook is not available on the mainland.

In the aftermath of Snowden's revelations, as a socially responsible American multinational operating in Hong Kong, Facebook has to come out from behind its array of servers in data centres and be answerable to the general public. Is it part of the American hegemony that is not only compromising our privacy, but also intervening in the internal political strife?

Whatever statement Facebook makes, however, it will not clear the doubts in the back of many people's mind, not least among Beijing's decision-makers; and it does not bode well for the implementation of universal suffrage in 2017, under the spectre of external interference which President Xi Jinping has emphatically warned against.

These internet bullies have made a big mistake and it is going to backfire. Once we have made it known that we have had enough, I am sure such bullying activities will die down, at least for the time being.

Another sure thing is that we will continue to shout, louder than ever, against this brand of democracy, which has in fact proved to be fascism.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Who is behind cyberattacks on pro-Beijing groups?