Hong Kong minister admits ‘relatively low’ trust in government, as district council election rumours spread on social media amid anti-government protests

Tony Cheung

A Hong Kong government minister admitted that trust in the administration was “relatively low” on Sunday, as various officials dealt with a swirl of rumours around hotly contested local elections.

As city residents headed to the polls in record numbers, widely shared social media messages reported several unsubstantiated potential threats, from early closures of polling stations to Facebook harvesting voting data.

The polls, to choose 452 local councillors, were some of the most closely watched district-level elections since the city returned to Chinese rule in 1997. The results will be seen as a barometer of support for the anti-government protest movement now roiling the city, and could exert more pressure on embattled leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to find new ways to resolve the impasse.

After voting at Sha Tin Government Secondary School on Sunday, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen was asked why many voters apparently feared polling stations would close early.

Hongkongers headed to the polls for district council elections on Sunday. Photo: Winson Wong

He replied: “The people’s level of trust in the government has been relatively low ... but as I have said, the voting time is from 7.30am to 10.30pm, and votes will only be counted after this process has finished.”

He said the government was “aware of many rumours and unfounded information circulating online”.

“We are proactively clarifying them and hope to bring the general public timely and accurate information,” he added.

Among the misinformation that officials debunked was the claim that elderly or disabled people did not need to queue at polling stations, an idea shared widely online.

Early voting surge amid rumours polls to shut prematurely due to disruption

The government clarified in a post on the District Council Election Facebook page that this claim was not true. The post explained that after voters queued to enter a polling station, they were usually asked to queue again to collect their ballot paper, lining up according to the first letter of their ID card number.

Some elderly people could have been asked to jump the first queue because no one else with their ID card letter was waiting in the second queue, it said.

“Polling station staff were only handling the situation flexibly,” the post read, adding that there were special arrangements for disabled people or voters in wheelchairs.

Electoral authorities have been dismissing various rumours since earlier this week.

On Friday, messages circulated online calling on people to vote early amid rumours that “emergency situations” could force polling stations to close as early as 10.30am, with a final count of the ballots then taken.

But the Registration and Electoral Office (REO) issued a swift clarification that, in the event of an emergency, voting at specific polling stations would either ­resume within 90 minutes of the disruption or be postponed until December 1.

The REO also issued a statement on Saturday after rumours emerged suggesting that facial recognition systems were being installed in polling stations.

The ballot is secret. There is no ‘facial recognition system’ installed in any polling station of the 2019 District Council Ordinary Election

Registration and Electoral Office

“The ballot is secret. There is no ‘facial recognition system’ installed in any polling station of the 2019 District Council Ordinary Election,” the statement read.

However, there was no clarification on another online theory.

Some internet users were wary of Facebook’s election-day feature, which asked people if they had voted.

A warning was being circulated, which read: “Facebook has records of the pages you browsed, and the comments you made. If you clicked ‘Yes, I voted’, it can guess which camp you voted for instantly. This would be way more accurate than exit polls.”

It was unclear why the users thought Facebook having such intelligence would be undesirable.

The Post has reached out to Facebook for comment.

This article Hong Kong minister admits ‘relatively low’ trust in government, as district council election rumours spread on social media amid anti-government protests first appeared on South China Morning Post

For the latest news from the South China Morning Post download our mobile app. Copyright 2019.