Last week, Asian digital culture was dominated in large part by Hong Kong netizens’ reactions to Beijing’s announcement that it will renege on promises for full universal suffrage for Hong Kong voters in the upcoming general election — and mainland reactions to those reactions. Also in China and Hong Kong, the nude celebrity hack known as “The Fappening” was big news online — partly because many Chinese media outlets saw no problem with publishing barely pixelated photos from the much discussed hack as proof of Western depravity, and also because it recalled for many netizens the infamous Edison Chen scandal of 2008, when intimate private photos of the Hong Kong actor having sex with a variety of women were similarly published.

On the other side of the region, Indonesian social media was dominated by the arrest of a female student after she posted negative remarks about the city Yokyakarta on the social media platform Path. After she was (briefly) arrested for “defaming” the city, netizens rallied behind her and the story jumped into international headlines, going viral on Twitter and spawning a wide debate over her arrest that morphed into a movement for her release with hashtags such as #FreeFlorence and #FreeFlo. India seemed to be having a Snowden moment, as a new report culled from a Right to Information Act filing revealed a staggering level of secret, government-authorized surveillance of private citizens’ phone and Internet communications there. Unlike their counterparts in the West, however, India’s media shrugged and its citizens yawned at the revelations.

And at the third corner of the triangle, public officials in Manila found themselves the subjects of a Twitter hashtag campaign by the name of #MRTChallenge, calling on all elected officials to ride the local MRT at rush hour at least once a month as a means of bringing attention to the city’s crumbling public transportation infrastructure. 


Will there be a ‪#‎SeptemberRevolution‬ in Hong Kong? Local Twitter feeds are starting to suggest it’s not out of the question. Images are beginning to circulate with such calls as, “People refuse to obey the command from Beijing; end the CCP Dynasty!” “Protests! Go to streets, nationwide (protest)!” and “Little lights in Hong Kong, bring China the dawn!”

Just before last week’s announcement that Beijing had ruled out Hong Kong’s insistence on universal suffrage in the coming election, armoured PLA troop carriers were photographed  rolling through the city, images that quickly went viral there. It may not be pleasant, but it does show a savvy understanding by Beijing of how to use social media to send a message.


After last week’s announcement from Beijing on Hong Kong, the Chinese cartoonist known as Rebel Pepper commented on “One Country, Two Systems” (一国两制). In the illustration that quickly went viral, a tank bursts through the Chinese character for “2” (两), making it more resemble the Indo-Arabic numeral “1” – a reference to HK residents’ alarm after Chinese armored vehicles were seen rumbling through Kowloon following Beijing’s announcement.

Global Voices posted a look at what mainland Chinese Weibo users have been saying about Beijing’s recent decision to deny Kong Kong citizens universal suffrage in the upcoming general election. Many said that it poses a threat to the “one country, two systems” principle in Hong Kong, which ensures the city’s freedoms.

It may have taken a while for the ALS ice bucket challenge to infiltrate China, but there was no such delay on news that nude photos of female Western stars had been leaked online. Sina Entertainment evidently wanted to ensure Chinese readers fully understood the complexities of this scandal by publishing the nude photos, albeit lightly harmonized with mosaic censoring.

Even as Chinese state media outlets have been publishing barely pixelated photos from the batch of US celebrity nudes in last week’s “Fappening” hack, many Asian netizens were experiencing deja vu. The hack recalled for many a similar scandal six years ago that destroyed the career of Hong Kong film star Edison Chen – an interesting example of vastly differing standards for Asian celebs.

Youku Tudou, China’s biggest online video company, is getting into the filmmaking business. Its new film studio will invest in no fewer than eight big-screen films and no fewer than nine online films every year. YouKu’s not alone. Baidu’s video portal launched a film studio last month that aims to make seven domestic films and one Hollywood film within the next year.

In a YouTube video posted in late August, a trio of daredevils recorded a stomach-turning selfie atop a Hong Kong skyscraper, a viral clip that got more than 1.4 million views within a week. The video was the latest to kick up discussion of a new trend called “rooftopping,” “skywalking,” or “outlaw Instagramming,” in which a new generation of daredevils is using smartphones and social media to redefine urban exploration around the globe.


Do Chinese working stiffs find LinkedIn’s professional social networking platform useful? That’s still an open question, but what’s clear is that the company is coming up against big hurdles in accommodating the strict censorship guidelines there.

A number of public WeChat accounts in China recently called out a prestigious new media venture, the Paper, for publishing a much-altered translation of an Economist article on China-US relations. In the Paper’s version, all commentary critical of China had been completely removed. While not surprising, the revelation has caused considerable debate on online news media circles.

Much was made last week of a lawsuit brought by a Shenzen man against his local ISP for blocking Google services, in an attempt to raise awareness of Chinese censorship. It’s especially interesting to watch this play out in China’s state media, where it’s getting a different spin altogether: the man should be blaming Google for failing to provide “properly supervised” service in China.

WeChat’s virtual “red envelope” app was a huge hit over the Lunar New Year. Monday was the Mid-Autumn Festival and a national holiday in China and Vietnam. With tight new restrictions on gift-giving now in effect, Chinese central authorities said anti-graft laws prohibit all traditional gift-giving and “mooncake ceremonies” with public funds — and warned specifically against using Weixin’s digital “red envelopes” to hide such gifting.


A 26-year-old Indonesian student has kicked off a full-fledged protest movement after being arrested for “defaming” the city of Yogyakarta in a post on the social media platform Path. Indonesian politicians and netizens have rallied behind the girl, just days after that same student was massively vilified online for the social media post that led to her detention in the first place. The story jumped into international headlines, as well. The student’s plight has gone viral on Twitter and the wide debate over her post has turned into a movement for her release with hashtags such as #FreeFlorence and #FreeFlo.

The practices of shoppers in Indonesia are are a mirror image of those in more developed nations. Instead of casing brick-and-mortar retailers for products they’ll later purchase cheaper on Amazon, Indonesian do just the opposite: browse online, then buy in person. Why? Many reasons, but a lack of credit cards and of trust in e-commerce sites are high on the list.


Due to systematic graft and corruption, the cost of local government contracts in Indonesia can be inflated by as much as 500 percent. New president Joko Widodo says he plans to eliminate cash from all such contracts by requiring them to transacted transparently online. Building a new online bureaucratic system could cut corruption by 70 percent, Jokowi has said.

The former Indonesian military leader Jorge Tavares, who is wanted in Timor-Leste on charges of crimes against humanity, was spotted by keen-eyed social media media users there last month after he apparently took several photos which were later posted online and went viral. It’s not known whether he’s still in the country, but you can bet netizens there are keeping a sharp eye.


In conservative, patriarchal India, where domestic abuse and even rape remain all too common, most women are too afraid to enter an all-male police station without a chaperone, effectively restricting their right to report a crime. A new ATM-like kiosk allows a victim to type out a complaint, or, if she is illiterate, speak into the machine to report it. Is this a good thing? Or is it merely a band-aid on a much deeper societal problem?

Internet penetration in India still hovers at just 16%, but that hasn’t stopped its government – like so many others – from scrutinizing what they’re doing and saying online. Last Wednesday, the Software Freedom Law Centre dropped a report that details the truly staggering level of secret but government-authorized surveillance of private citizens’ phone and Internet communications in India. It reveals widespread surveillance by government offices, ISPs, and even third parties contracted to infect target devices using malicious software to gain access to information stored within. SFLC obtained the info under India’s Right to Information Act. Since the report broke, there’s been almost no discussion of it in Indian media, and a vast shrug by citizens themselves. Why?

South Korea

A top South Korean court has acquitted a Seoul-based photographer who was arrested in 2012 for a series of retweets of pro-Pyongyang messages, and for Tweeting images in which he had substituted his own face in revolutionary imagery. The court agreed that the posts were “were satirical in nature,” though South Korea maintains an extensive online censorship system.

“Most users of Korea’s PC bangs were male adults who wanted to smoke freely while enjoying video games at the same time. But with the new ban on smoking, many people quit PC bangs instead of smoking.”

The practice known as “Photoshop trolling” is wildly popular in China and South Korea, where people often post photos of themselves to message boards asking for help from users familiar with the digital editing tool. Mischievous Photoshoppers often take things a little too far.


Last week a Saigon woman was warned by Facebook’s legal team to stop using its name in her promotional materials, which claim her new restaurant, Nang Ganh (Lady with Shoulder Pole), was “built on Facebook.” What’s especially interesting is that the woman used the social network as a crowdfunding platform, raising $30,000, as Vietnam still has no well-known local crowdfunding option.

Bloggers across Vietnam launched an online campaign Tuesday demanding that their authoritarian government keep the people closely informed about national and foreign policies, including its dealings with giant neighbor China. The “We Want to Know” campaign was launched by a Vietnamese bloggers’ group early Tuesday and quickly spread on the Internet through Facebook and other social media sites across the nation.

Vietnam bloggers


Last week we noted the popularity in Thailand of online services trafficking in plagiarised school assignments — Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha even cited it as a problem during his weekly televised address. But this week it was made clear that “homework agencies” are big business in Japan, too, as many were overwhelmed with last-minute summer assignments as students there returned to school.

KFC Japan has begun an unusual social media promotion that says a lot about that unique culture. Twitter users who follow KFC Japan and post a link to its promo page with the hashtag “#KFCカーナルズデー” (“KFC Colonel’s Day”), will be eligible to win a fried chicken-themed keyboard, mouse, and USB flash drive, and one of 47 pairs of chicken drumstick-shaped earrings. As of 12pm Saturday, a total of two users had taken up the challenge.

A distinctly nontraditional Japanese girl band named Babymetal has been kicking up controversy in metal music circles with their transfixing mashup of heavy metal music, J-pop melodies, Japanese “idol” fashion, and pop choreography. A recent live music video has been viewed almost 15 million times.



The rising phenomenon of Internet love-related scams hitting naive, lovelorn netizens in parts of Southeast Asia got a number today, at least in Malaysia. As many as 1,750 Malaysians have fallen prey to Internet “love scams” since Jan 2013 and have been cheated of RM68.3 million (S$26.8 million). The great majority of victims were women who fell prey to men claiming that they were U.K> or American businessmen.


In Manila, a senior public official is taking a beating from local netizens, who’ve dared him to ride the local MRT at rush hour. Transportation Secretary Joseph Emilio “Jun” Abaya is resisting the #MRTChallenge, as he says it’s unnecessary and he would “make a clown of himself” by doing so. The campaign appeared to be gaining steam last week in its goal of focusing official attention on the city’s crumbling public transportation network. Resident Dinna Dayao has started a petition that now has more that 11,000 signatures, and several public officials are heeding the call to use the Manila MRT ar rush hour – without an entourage and without jumping the queue – at least once a month.

In its three-way battle with competing car- and taxi-hailing apps Uber and EasyTaxi in the Philippines, GrabTaxi has realized one of the biggest hurdles for widespread public acceptance is the safety of the vehicles themselves. It’s therefore warning passengers of three common taxi scams with an infographic (though we’re not sure how much confidence this will instill in anyone).

Patrick Sharbaugh