Hong Kong chaos deepened by spread of fake news
HONG KONG Chinese tanks at the border? False. Photo of a protester biting off a policeman's finger? Misleading.
In polarised Hong Kong, a fake news fight for public opinion has become as crucial a battleground as the city streets.
During weeks of pro-democracy protests that have involved millions of people and frequently turned violent, online rumours and conspiracy theories have sowed confusion and deepened distrust.
From 2011 footage of South Korean soldiers misrepresented as an impending Chinese "invasion" to doctored photographs exaggerating the size of rallies, Hong Kong citizens have been bombarded with conflicting claims from both sides of the divide.
Hong Kong authorities have been forced to repeatedly deny claims circulating on social media - most recently, that the People's Liberation Army had been brought in from China to defend government buildings.
"There is absolutely no such thing and all these claims are totally false," Hong Kong's government said this week.
Police have also been the target of fake news, including a video debunked by AFP that purportedly showed officers shooting a woman in the face.
"The spreading of numerous rumours about police operations will drive a wedge between the Hong Kong Police and the community," the force said.
Videos and images of protests or violent incidents, often selectively edited to support a particular viewpoint, have circulated quickly not only on social media platforms, but also on private chat groups such as Weibo or WhatsApp.
In these closed environments, entrenched ideas are rarely challenged by facts, according to journalism professor and fake news expert Masato Kajimoto.
"The rather simple, one-sided views expressed in such content makes it harder to reconcile the difference" between Hong Kong's warring camps, Dr Kajimato told AFP.- AFP