Are Hongkongers really ‘unhappy’, ‘arrogant’ and ‘racist’? Only if you believe what Google tells us

Peter Kammerer says we can’t read too much into online searches, but Google results about how Hongkongers, and others, are seen may indicate issues for policymakers to consider

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 October, 2017, 1:25pm
UPDATED : Monday, 09 October, 2017, 7:34pm

Here’s something about computer science and life. Type into a Google search “Why are Hongkongers so”. Up will come a list of suggested words and phrases. When I tried this, I got, in order, “unhappy”, “arrogant”, “racist”, “rich” and “ugly”. I’m not sure what percentage of locals and outsiders plug in these terms, but we come out looking unpleasant.

Changing to “Singaporeans” results in “rich”, “ugly”, “rude”, “unhappy”, “skinny”, “racist”, “boring” and “unfriendly”. Japanese are commonly seen as “bad at English”, “polite”, “thin”, “healthy”, “short” and “smart”. Koreans are considered “good at gaming”, “white”, “pale”, “pretty” and “cute”. For British, it’s “cold”, “proud”, “smart”, “boring” and “good at music”. People wonder why Americans are “patriotic”, “angry”, “tall” and “proud”.

Google algorithms are complex and search results are not necessarily the most popular, but I’m satisfied that there’s a fair degree of accuracy. I’ve heard people, in polite company and otherwise, say such things about the nationalities concerned and especially in the case of Hongkongers. They are generalised and not warranted for the whole population, yet there’s much to argue about and debate, even if it’s based on assumptions, preconceptions and stereotypes.

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I’d wager that Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has the top entry for the “Hongkongers” search – “unhappy” – in mind when delivering her maiden policy address on Wednesday. She’ll be thinking of those aged in their teens to early 30s who have been so vocal about unaffordable housing, the lack of decent jobs and a desire for a greater say in government. Then come the owners of small and medium-sized businesses who complain about the difficulty of turning a profit; they are likely to get tax breaks. Technology, seen as the solution to all our problems through the creation of new industries and opportunities, will also feature. We’ve heard elderly, subdivided flat-dwellers, the financially squeezed middle class, ethnic min orities and those in low-paid employment are also dispirited, but we’ll have to see if their grievances will be dealt with.

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If Google and the websites behind its results helped shape government policies, I’d be worried. Lam and her team, we expect, have ideas based on proper on-the-ground scientific and social research rather than internet browsing and scouring social media. But that’s not to discount the value of online forays to get a snapshot of how we see ourselves and are perceived by outsiders.

I don’t believe that unhappiness is worse in Hong Kong than elsewhere. Social media and commentary sections on websites, with their anonymity, and an international media with a fleeting attention span, easily misrepresent reality. My 23-year-old son assures me that young people have a tendency to complain about anything and everything, so take it with a pinch of salt. I hope Lam doesn’t go overboard with policies for a sector of society that can be too demanding for its own good.

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Let’s at least wonder why many people, it would seem, think Hongkongers are arrogant and racist. I assume the internet activity that led to these words being offered up relates to protests against mainland tourists years ago. The mudslinging thankfully died down, but some Hongkongers still resent the presence of fellow Chinese who can be wealthier, more talented and better educated. Such people need understanding, tolerance and soul-searching.

I also feel Google’s list of words could portray Hongkongers better. Having lived here for three decades, I offer up “busy”, “noisy”, “helpful” and “generous with money, but not with time”.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post