How one night of Hong Kong protests shut down Instagram in China

DEMONSTRATION: Pro-democracy protesters occupy central Hong Kong.

DEMONSTRATION: Pro-democracy protesters occupy central Hong Kong.

Social media users in China have given a collective groan after the country's Communist rulers blocked Instagram in the wake of protests in Hong Kong.

No more sepia-tinged phone pics of your latest meal in Shanghai or, perhaps more importantly to Chinese censors' minds, no more shots of Hong Kong officers in riot gear unloading canisters of pepper-spray and tear gas into the faces of Hong Kong's largely peaceful demonstrators.

Until Monday (local time), Instagram was one of the few foreign social media apps left untouched, even as Facebook, Twitter and others were blocked.

It has been the vehicle of choice for some artist dissidents such as Ai Weiwei. And this weekend, it was a handy way for protesters laying peaceful siege to government headquarters in Hong Kong to send out visual documentation of police as they charged at protesters with batons and lobbed tear gas canisters into crowded streets.

Their clashes with police Sunday night and into the wee hours of Monday morning were accompanied by a barrage of hashtags. #hk, #hongkong, etc.#Occupycentral, a rallying cry for democracy activists of late, had 9103 posts as of Monday afternoon. 

So when the service turned off within hours of protesters getting tear gassed, many users assumed on Monday that Chinese censors decided that it was not in their interest to let pictures circulate of Chinese residents standing up en masse to their local authorities.

The sudden loss of Instagram in China drew the ire of Chinese netizens, including some who weren't even aware of the protest before the shutdown.

"No one cared before what was happening over there in Hong Kong. We just wanted to quietly stalk our pop stars and get updates on ball games. But now that you've done this we have to care," posted one angry blogger named OhSoCute on China's Weibo social media.

"Once again, I feel that I am forced to wear a huge pair of eye patches," sighed another poster.

As of Monday, Instagram remained available in Hong Kong, which - because of its history as a British colony - enjoys freedoms and rule of law most Chinese cities do not.

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Chinese officials have tried curtailing Instagram before. This summer, for example, the app was abruptly removed from the Android app store in China.

But the censorship of Instagram was just one of many ways Chinese authorities attempted on Monday to limit awareness in China of the protest in Hong Kong.

There were some signs that Hong Kong-related pictures on China's main social media apps Weibo and WeChat were being deleted and blocked.

The news was similarly kept off the home pages of most Chinese news sites in China, who almost uniformly ran the same story distributed by government-controlled Xinhua News Agency. (A report that mainly calls the protests "an illegal gathering.")

An editorial by China's nationalistic, state-run Global Times blamed "radical activists in Hong Kong" for "ruining Hong Kong's image," and accused foreign media of making unfair comparisons to the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

Soon after, Chinese versions of the editorial, along with others, were deleted online (but the English version remained untouched as of Monday afternoon).

 - The Washington Post

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