Meta Restricts Access to Over 400 Facebook and Instagram Posts, Pages in Hong Kong Due to Health Department Requests

Tech giant Meta restricted access to more than 400 posts on Facebook and Instagram in Hong Kong in the first half of 2021, all but three in response to requests from the Ministry of Health.

On Facebook, the items were restricted to 387 posts and 17 pages and groups, while on Instagram 20 accounts and two “content items” were restricted.

Social media app icons on an iPhone. Photo: Brett Jordan, via Unsplash.

According to the data, 423 of the articles were reported by the Department of Health’s Bureau of Medicines. The office, which oversees drug registration and safety, also releases news about Covid-19 vaccines and possible side effects.

In response to a question about what the social media elements entailed, Meta – the parent company of Facebook and Instagram – declined to comment.

“We do not disclose the reason for government or law enforcement requests,” a PR firm representing Meta told HKFP via email.

Court of Final Appeal. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Twice a year, Meta publishes data on content restrictions – based on local laws – in countries and territories around the world. Governments, courts, non-governmental entities and the public can file reports alleging illegality for the tech giant to review.

In addition to restrictions related to the Health Ministry, three articles were also restricted globally in response to court orders from Brazil, Meta’s public relations firm told HKFP.

The more than 400 restrictions in the first half of 2021 represented a major increase from the previous six months. From July to December 2020, Meta restricted access in Hong Kong to a single article involving tobacco product advertising.

All government data requests denied

Meanwhile, Meta has received 152 requests for data from the Hong Kong government. They included 150 requests for legal process, described as “requests from governments accompanied by legal process, such as a search warrant”. All were rejected.

Total number of Facebook data requests from the Hong Kong government since 2013. Photo: Meta.

The company also denied two requests for emergency disclosure. These requests are answered when there is reason to believe the matter “involves an imminent risk of serious physical injury or death,” according to Meta’s explanation of the data types.

Meta did not respond directly when asked by HKFP what these two requests were.

The 152 data requests involved 177 users or accounts. After Beijing passed the national security law in Hong Kong, Meta – then known as Facebook – along with Google and Twitter said they would stop complying with government data requests.

File photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

“We believe that free speech is a basic human right and support the right of people to express themselves without fear for their safety or other repercussions,” a Facebook spokesperson said in July 2020.

All 202 applications submitted within six months of the implementation of the security law were rejected. In contrast, Facebook provided data in response to 174 of 503 requests for user data from Hong Kong authorities from July 2019 to June 2020. The period – which overlaps with the anti-extradition protests and the months before the adoption of security legislation – has seen the highest number of data requests since Meta began collecting the information in 2013.

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