Senator Markey Condemns Detention of Hong Kong Activists; Queries Facebook about Policy of Allowing Advertisements from State-controlled Media Organizations


Boston (August 30, 2019) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Ranking Member of the East Asia Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, released the following statement regarding the arrests by Hong Kong police of prominent political activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, and Andy Chan. The arrests come just before the five-year anniversary of China’s decision to intervene in Hong Kong elections. 


“These arrests are yet another sign that the authorities in Hong Kong and mainland China seek to stifle democracy through intimidation,” said Senator Markey. “I condemn the arrests and the risible claim by Hong Kong police that their actions have nothing to do with upcoming protests. The people of Hong Kong must be free to express their concerns. We must also call out the enablers of coercion and intimidation. When the President of the United States referred to the Hong Kong protests as ‘riots’ and said that China ‘will have to deal with that themselves’, he gave a green light to Xi Jinping at the very moment that a democratic leader should have been standing up for freedom.”


Senator Markey also sent a letter to Facebook regarding its troubling policy of allowing advertisements from state-controlled media organizations. During protests in Hong Kong, state-controlled media based in mainland China have paid social media companies to spread a narrative that distracts from the protestors’ demands and instead spreads disinformation and dehumanization. The Xinhua News Agency has depicted the protestors as cockroaches, while China Central Television and China Daily have suggested that protestors are on par with those responsible for Nazi crimes.


“Under Facebook’s current policy, these and other state-run entities can pay Facebook for advertisements that promote and target sophisticated media campaigns,”writes Senator Markey in the letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “But Facebook has not followed Twitter in prohibiting advertising from state-controlled news media entities.  This is a step that Facebook also should take. State-sponsored efforts to influence the outcome of protests in Hong Kong only reinforce our concern that state actors will continue to exploit Facebook to interfere in U.S. elections, target minorities and political opponents in their own countries, and blunt the global outcry against gross human rights violations.”


A copy of Senator Markey’s letter to Facebook can be found HERE


In the letter, the Senator asks Facebook to respond to questions that include:

  • Why does Facebook still allow advertisements from state-controlled media organizations?
  • How does Facebook assess the implications of permitting Chinese state-controlled media campaigns, as they affect both public perception of the Hong Kong protests and the protests themselves?
  • How does Facebook assess the implications of permitting Chinese state-controlled media campaigns for public perception of the Xinjiang internment camps?
  • In public comments on June 26, 2019 regarding state-led influence operations, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated: “As a private company, we don’t have the tools to make [a foreign government] stop.”  How is allowing advertisements from state-controlled media organizations consistent with Facebook’s effort to use every tool available to limit influence operations by foreign governments?
  • When Facebook removes Pages, Groups, and accounts involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior, how does it decide which associated content to remove? Specifically, in the Hong Kong context, does any content associated with those Pages, Groups, or accounts remain accessible on the platform?
  • What is the nature of Facebook training in China for government and state media personnel, including what, if any, guidance is provided with respect to targeting promoted content?


In June, Senators Markey and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) introduced the Hong Kong Policy Reevaluation Act, legislation that would require reporting on how the Chinese Communist Party uses Hong Kong to circumvent U.S. export controls, customs duties, and sanctions, as well as to conduct espionage and influence operations.