Multiple Twitter users are reporting that when they attempt to view the Winnie the Pooh character page on Disney’s official website in Hong Kong, they’re being met with a 404 error page which says that the content isn’t available.
Videos posted by these Twitter users show them trying to access the Winnie the Pooh character page via the search on Disney’s website and via Google Search. In both instances, the users are redirected to a 404 error page with a message that reads: “404: You didn’t break the internet but we can’t find what you are looking for.”
— Stephanie (@Stephan65655121) October 10, 2019
— HKcitizen0826 (@HKcitizen0826) October 10, 2019
While many users believe this is related to the rising tensions between the US and China this week which have resulted in several US companies making decision that appease China, the Winnie the Pooh page appears to have been inaccessible in Hong Kong for over a year with a redirect on Disney’s Hong Kong site sending users to a broken page since at least 2018.
Guys, with apologies for causing alarm, I think the Pooh site's misdirection predated the recent events. Below is an archived page of https://t.co/VSzvdLnnLN from March last year. There you can see that the page redirects HK users to the HK site, which was then already broken. pic.twitter.com/hKgknjVK6N
— Alan Wong (@alanwongw) October 10, 2019
It’s unclear why users in Hong Kong have been redirected to a broken page for so long. It could be a technical error on Disney’s part that has somehow gone unnoticed for many years or the page could have been intentionally blocked since at least 2018.
Images and memes featuring Winnie the Pooh are often censored in China because the character is said to resemble Chinese president Xi Jinping – a comparison that draws the ire of Chinese censors. Reports of Winnie the Pooh being censored go back to 2017 while the origins of memes comparing Winnie the Pooh to Xi Jinping date back to 2013.
Regardless of why the page is inaccessible, recent decisions by Blizzard and Apple which have led to accusations of these companies bending the knee to China, China’s history of censoring this Winnie the Pooh image, and China being blamed for the increasingly brutal police tactics that are being used against Hong Kong protestors have brought the blocking of this page into the spotlight.
Worries about China’s internet censorship creeping into Hong Kong have been growing since August when Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam hinted that the country may start issuing executive orders to block certain apps. A few days after this announcement, virtual private network (VPN) provider Private Internet Access (PIA) was temporarily blocked in the country. While PIA was unblocked days later, the incident stoked fears that a large scale surveillance firewall, similar to the Great Firewall of China, was being slowly introduced in the country.