Even though residents in this territory are left out of China's Great Firewall, meaning they have access to social networks like Facebook, internet users in Hong Kong are no strangers to bypassing many other kinds of restrictions.
That seems to include what can be described as self-imposed restrictions, like “the necessity” of being on Facebook because it happens to be the most widely used platform.
But this kind of reasoning is coming to an end for many in Hong Kong. There, users are starting to turn to alternatives such as MeWe, a freemium subscription-based network that doesn't rely on ads.
Users in Hong Kong, when faced with things like unexplained censorship, disappearing and reappearing pages, but also algorithm-rigged feeds and mass privacy violations around the giant's ad business are increasingly looking to replace it with MeWe, a company not shy of describing itself as the anti-Facebook: one that promises not to engage in any of the worst things about the giant, including political bias.
In remarks made earlier in 2020, CEO Mark Weinstein spoke against so-called surveillance capitalism. This message is reportedly heard loud and clear in Hong Kong, where MeWe has topped the list of most downloaded apps for three weeks. Currently, it has 12 million active monthly users globally – clearly nowhere near Facebook's over 2.5 billion. But the focus seems to be on growth, and there, MeWe just added 3 million users worldwide in November.
The trend of dissatisfaction with Facebook is not new neither in Hong Kong nor elsewhere, but the company's recent decision to join Twitter and place “labels” and thus censor US President Trump's posts ahead of the election hit a raw nerve for many in Hong Kong, is a market particularly sensitive to restrictions on online free speech, given China's strictly imposed policies on this front.
“(The labels) triggered some Hongkongers to think about how Facebook had been controlling speech over the past few years, so they wanted a substitute,” media consultant Terry Yeung told Vice.
Meanwhile, creators are happy with how MeWe works for them: allowing some, like financial columnist Stanley Wong to amass 23,000 followers in a month, compared to the 140,000 he has after five years on Facebook.
“My interactions with followers are better on MeWe, because it doesn't use algorithms to limit reach… it also doesn't extort my money by asking me to boost posts,” said Wong.