TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — As many of the largest social media companies issued a block on Hong Kong Government access to personal user data amid the new draconian security law, Reddit users on Tuesday (July 7) were disappointed to find that their favorite platform was leaving the door open to the Chinese authorities.
On June 30, China passed a controversial national security law for Hong Kong, giving Beijing sweeping authority, with Articles 38 and 29 having direct implications for all foreign nationals both in and outside of Hong Kong. In addition, Rule 4 of seven implementation rules for Article 43 announced on Monday (July 6) dictates that "electronic platforms" must take down content, cease user access, and provide the police with the "identification record or decryption assistance" upon request.
In response to the new law, Facebook (including WhatsApp and Instagram), Google, and Twitter in quick succession all announced that they will temporarily freeze requests from Hong Kong authorities for user data and assess the implications of the new law. A Telegram spokesman on Monday emphasized that it has "never shared any data with the Hong Kong authorities" and pledged that it would not do so until "an international consensus is reached in relation to the ongoing political changes in the city," reported AP.
However, the social media site Reddit, which received US$150 million in investment from China's Tencent in 2019, was much more reticent in its response to the new draconian law. In a statement, Reddit wrote "All legal requests from Hong Kong are bound by careful review for validity and with a special attention to human rights implications," reported Financial Times.
In anticipation of criticism that it was kowtowing to its Chinese investors, Reddit issued another statement in which it claimed that it had not yet received any requests from Hong Kong authorities, proclaiming that "policies on protecting user information are in no way influenced by our investors." Another company in which Tencent has invested heavily, Snap, has balked at making a public statement on its stance toward requests from Hong Kong authorities.
On Tuesday, the news of Reddit's ambiguous stance toward the security law quickly began trending on the China subreddit of the platform. In response, one user wrote that they believed it was reasonable for Reddit to hold a "neutral stance," although they would have preferred that they would have taken the same position as other major social media platforms.
He then expressed his hope that "Reddit stays true to its word and not allow partial Tencent ownership influence their policies." Another user quipped: "You can't be neutral on a moving train. Nor is there a reason to be neutral towards a genocidal dictatorship."
Many other users then speculated about the extent of personal data Reddit could potentially hand over to Chinese authorities. Some said that because emails are not required, there is less personal information at stake, but others pointed out that access to one's IP and thus extensive personal information is still plausible.
When Reddit announced the massive infusion of cash from Tencent, there were concerns that the Chinese company would coerce the social media tool into censoring content that displeases the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Given the murky nature of the social media platform, which is mainly run by unpaid, anonymous volunteer moderators, the extent of Tencent's influence is difficult to quantify.
However, Reddit's non-committal response to the unprecedented, heavy-handed security law in Hong Kong raises new questions about Tencent's influence on the company.