Yes, yes, we know … the iPhone 6! The iWatch! Samsung’s snarky responses to Apple’s iPhone announcements! True enough, the news from Cupertino was on the lips and screens of many in Asia last week, not least because they were disappointed to find the new devices won’t be immediately available in much of Asia. But there was much more on view in digital culture across Asia last week.. A Hong Kong man lit a fire under China’s pet-loving human flesh searchers when he posted pix of his dog drowning in a spinning washing machine, and the online reaction forced him to flee the country. With China’s Alibaba on the road drumming up support for its pending U.S. IPO, several observers began peering into the bowels of its e-commerce site, Taobao, and pulled out some astonishing finds for our bemusement.

In Indonesia, the arrest last week of a student for “defaming” a city there with a snarky post on Path set off a furor of goatee-twiddling over the nation’s problematic Internet law allowing anyone to charge anyone else with a crime for “offending” them with online speech. Last week India had its own Snowden moment, when a report filed under the nation’s Right to Information Act revealed widespread government surveillance of personal, private internet communications between citizens. Yet the response from media and citizens has been muted, to say the least. Meanwhile, the ubiquitous cyber cafe is disappeared in developing India — partly because of the arrival of new budget smartphones like that from China’s Xiaomi, which sold out in India in a record 4.2 seconds.

In Japan, online hate speech regarding “foreigners” (read: resident South Koreans) has become hard for anyone to ignore, least of all those who recall the events of 1923 there, and in India, disastrous floods in Jammu and Kashmir united the bickering Hindu and Muslim communities in a heartwarming show of cooperative use of Twitter and Facebook for relief — until the trolls spoiled the party and each side began bitterly blaming the other for the catastrophe. And in Facebook-mad Vietnam, inmates were found to have set up a mobile phone smuggling racket — so that they can  access the social network from prison.

India iPhone

China still doesn’t have an official release date for the new iPhone 6. But that’s not stopping hardcore Apple fans there. Some enthusiasts (and those who love to flash their bling) are buying grey market units for up to RMB 30,000 (US$4,890).


Crude internet colloquialisms in China need to be clamped down before it’s too late, said a Chinese Internet academic. Seemingly unaware of how such slang is used by millions of Chinese netizens to circumvent Internet censorship (or perhaps all too aware), Du Hongchao said that if this type of word use is allowed to permeate it could result in “a crisis.” Some writers think using such terms show off their personality, Du wrote, “but for me it is as annoying as flies!”

Gaming apps and the mobile messaging app WeChat are having a significant impact on e-commerce, piracy, and payment practices in China. Tens of millions of mobile gamers there have made China Apple’s third-largest market for software sales, a huge chunk of which comes through WeChat. The app has proved a winning formula in getting people in China, a market notorious for not paying for software, to connect their bank accounts with their phones and pay for virtual goods like extra lives and power-ups in mobile games.

Also in the e-commerce realm, a marketing blog last week offered up a revealing insight into one way Chinese netizens differ from their Western counterparts: even today, online shoppers expect instant and always-on access to sellers via the instant messenger tool QQ. Why? A lack of trust in online vendors is mitigated slightly by direct communication.

Coming just a few weeks after several anti-Tibet propaganda-spouting accounts were discovered on Twitter, an online smear campaign against one of China’s most celebrated young authors has fuelled suspicions that Beijing is opening a new front in its propaganda war, this time on Twitter. Chinese propaganda chiefs appear to now be more actively experimenting with ways of manipulating the debate on the American social media network, well outsides the confines of China’s heavily censored social web.

A Hong Kong man has exploded the Internet there by apparently putting a dog in a washing machine and posting photographs on Facebook showing it struggling in the water. The post has sparked outrage online, with thousands sharing the photographs and calling for police to investigate. This sort of thing is exactly why China’s “human flesh search engine” was created.

In China, people can “petition” government authorities at various levels over disputes and grievances, and many citizens travel great distances to the capital in the hope of speaking to the central authorities. Now the SPC has set up 16 video-equipped petition rooms, and distant petitioners can apply for video chats with SPC judges at local courts.

Last week’s iPhone 6 announcement reminded us that in China, after the first iPhone skyrocketed as a status symbol, a lucrative new side business emerged: the selling of fake “has logged in via iPhone” signatures for users of the massively popular instant messaging program Tencent QQ. Online marketplace Taobao hosts at least 218 different vendors of the fake signatures.

More on Taobao: In an investigation last week, IT security company Palo Alto Networks found email accounts from 42 universities for sale on Alibaba’s Taobao, China’s biggest consumer-to-consumer online marketplace. Prices ranged from 0.98 yuan to 2,400 yuan ($0.16 to $390). Nearly all the email accounts were still active and had legitimate owners.

In fact, Taobao is a little like New York: if you can’t buy it there — legitimate or otherwise – then it’s not for sale. Last week it was elite university email addresses; later in the week, it was houses.



As India becomes ever more wired and mobile access to the web proliferates among a rising middle class, the ubiquitous cyber cafes that used to occupy every urban corner are fast disappearing. A new government initiative allows users of the vacant shops to repurpose them into kiosks for processing voter IDs, PAN cards and passports.


As India becomes ever more wired and mobile access to the web proliferates among a rising middle class, the ubiquitous cyber cafes that used to occupy every urban corner are fast disappearing. A new government initiative allows users of the vacant shops to repurpose them into kiosks for processing voter IDs, PAN cards and passports.

India’s Buzzfeed clone StoryPick is a fascinating way to peer into both Indian and American culture through the lens of a shared online formula. Here, a post on a Game of Thrones remix on YouTube called “Ganesh on Thrones” includes a pre-emptive admonition from editors that there’s “nothing offensive about it.” In India, online speech regarding religion is highly regulated.

A well-known film actress in India has been arrested in Hyderabad for prostitution – but social media users there have flooded the Internet with sympathy for her and accusations of official hypocrisy, as police have refrained from going after any of her known male clients. The incident is causing a heated debate about problems with Indian society and the film industry’s treatment of women.

Last week India had its own Snowden moment, when a report filed under the nation’s Right to Information Act revealed widespread government surveillance of personal, private internet communications between citizens. Yet the response from media and citizens has been muted, to say the least. An article from The Hindu on 4 September has received a total of two comments, both dismissive of the revelations. Why?

In an essay today at Firstpost, Sandip Roy explains the appeal of the iPhone in a status-obsessed but poor society like India. “It fuses what has become an aam aadmi necessity like a mobile phone with high-end luxury and in a way, strips it of any consumer vanity guilt in a country where, as stories constantly remind us, two-thirds of the population lives on less than $2 a day.”

It seems that the “10 Books List” is just as popular in Facebook newsfeeds in India as it is elsewhere. One wry writer looks at how Indian Facebookers are using it, which may sound familiar to Western users: “The objective of the list-naming is to spew the most heavy-duty names in the world of writing you can think of. Judging by the names on the 10 books lists that are floating around, English-reading India is a haven of intellectuals.”

China’s Alibaba is the world’s largest e-commerce platform, with online sales totalling $248 billion last year. By contrast, 20 million Indians spent a meagre $2 billion shopping online in 2013. Why? The biggest challenge is the country’s low Internet penetration level. Also, India’s Internet security is poor, scaring off online customers. But both factors are changing fast.


Last week, an Indonesian student made a disparaging remark about the city of Yogyakarta on the social media platform Path – and was quickly arrested for “defaming” the city. Although she was released, the incident has prompted an outpouring of navel-gazing and introspection on the part of national media regarding what it says about Indonesian internet culture.

A bill to end to direct local elections in Indonesia is raising an uproar. On Twitter the hashtag #TolakPilkadaoleh DPRD (“reject the regional election bill”) has been among the top trending tweets since the bill was announced last Thursday. Citizens are up in arms, and they’re taking to social media in droves to mock and agitate against it, as in the below meme: “We were satisfied with direct elections. Why would the DPR (People’s Representative Council) change it to indirect? Is the DPR being incompetent or just seeking revenge for the elite political candidate that lost? Those goats.”


How popular is the selfie phenomenon in gadget-mad Indonesia? So much that the city of Tangerang has decided to construct a “selfie garden,” funded by the city and announced this week by the mayor himself. “Photography lovers can use the selfie garden for gatherings. The garden also can be used for those who want to take intimate pre-wedding photos.”

If you’re an Indonesian and you wanted to say happy birthday to your nation’s 65-year-old, soon-to-be-former-president last week, the stylish way to do it would be as everyone else did: via Twitter, where millions of birthday wishes commingled in a warm bath of grateful farewells to the man.

In developing nations like India and Indonesia, where the cost of a typical smartphone is well beyond the reach of ordinary people, Xiaomi’s new budget-priced Redmi device has proved spectacularly popular. The phones sold out at online vendors in seven minutes on Thursday in Indonesia and in just 4.2 seconds in India on Tuesday.

Indonesian news media have been quite interested in the case of a woman in Salatiga whose personal details were lifted from Facebook and used by someone else to create a fake profile for her — as a prostitute. She’s been receiving calls from interested parties ever since. The woman, who is a journalist, suspects it’s a revenge hack against her for something she reported on.


In retrospect, maybe it wasn’t such a good idea. Struggling Malaysia Airlines launched a new ticket promotion in Australia and New Zealand last week with the name “My Ultimate Bucket List.” After online commenters in both countries as well as at home piled derision on the campaign for being tasteless, the company nixed it, but not before international news outlets got in their licks.


Why has developing Vietnam has gone gaga over Apple? Vietnam’s primarily young and technophilic population is extremely status conscious, and don’t mind spending as much as two months’ salary on an iPhone—perceived to be the No. 1 brand in mobility—because it’s a highly visible luxury item considered within reach.

Although the Vietnamese government has been quietly blocking Facebook at the DNS level since 2009, currently some 27 million people there use technical workarounds to access the site — including, it seems, prison inmates, who are using Facebook on smartphones that have been smuggled in, reported the Dan Tri newspaper on Friday.


Last week, every Facebook game stopped working in South Korea. And they’re not coming back until the country’s government can apply its rating system. It’s part of a wider effort to exert control over social-casino games, but the country is also taking the opportunity to ensure everything on Facebook complies with its regulations.


China’s hardly the only place in Asia where online rumours have authorities concerned. In Japan, Korean residents are becoming increasingly anxious about the rise in “poisonous hearsay” and discriminatory commentary about them on social media there. It’s so bad that some are warning of a repeat of the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, after which thousands were murdered on the basis of rumors that Koreans had poisoned wells and burned down houses.

How crazy are Japanese consumers for Apple products? Two days before the company is expected to unveil its iPhone 6–and perhaps more than a week until the product becomes available for purchase–six customers had already formed lines at the Apple store in Ginza, Tokyo.

From the Only-in-Japan Department: A virtual reality experience in Tokyo from Yahoo! Japan offers the chance to ride the trending waves of search topics in the country as if on a roller coaster. When users select a keyword, the number of people searching it on Yahoo! Japan at the moment will correspond to the track’s elevation.


Last year, the casinos at Singapore’s Marina Bay Sands and Sentosa resorts brought in a staggering $6 billion in gambling revenue. But of course resident Singaporeans aren’t welcome at those dens of iniquity. Today Singapore’s parliament proposed a law making it illegal to offer online gambling services to Singaporeans – or to advertise them there. Explanations welcome.

Singapore’s parliament passed a newly-broadened Road Traffic Act yesterday making it illegal to use any mobile communication device, such as tablets and smartphones, while driving. For comparison, Japan banned the use of phones while driving in 1999.


The #MRTChallenge movement, which we reported on last week, seems to be picking up steam in Manila with a Global Voices article, two new hashtags circulating on Twitter, and several additional public officials taking up the challenge to ride the city’s crumbling MRT at rush hour.